x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Thousands protest at Iran vote result

Dozens arrested as opposition supporters take to Tehran's street following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's landslide victory.

TEHRAN // Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's landslide electoral victory was described variously as a "dangerous charade", a "sham" and a "real feast" yesterday, as thousands of supporters of opposition contender Mir Hossein Mousavi massed in downtown Tehran to protest against what they said was a rigged election, clashing with police and chanting political slogans. Mr Mousavi, alleging "numerous and blatant irregularities", vowed not to "succumb to this stage arrangement" in a statement released shortly after lunchtime yesterday. "I advise officials to stop this trend before it is too late and to return to law and the safeguarding of people's votes - and to know that disrespecting justice results in a lack of legitimacy." He also urged his supporters to remain calm, an appeal echoed by fellow opposition candidates. But throughout the day, angry chanting reverberated around the squares and streets of central Tehran as protesters brought traffic to a standstill. Television footage showed scuffles between baton-wielding riot police and demonstrators, many of whom could be seen being dragged away, while plumes of tear-gas smoke billowed in the background, in rare scenes of political unrest in the Islamic republic. One local journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said dozens of people had been arrested and at least one person seriously injured in clashes between police and rival supporters outside the interior ministry. "They have ruined the country and they want to ruin it more over the next four years," one group of protesters chanted outside Mr Mousavi's office, according to Agence France-Presse. BBC Persia said two foreign journalists - a man and a woman - had been arrested near Mr Mousavi's office. Mr Mousavi said he had written to senior clerics in the holy city of Qom, 150km south of Tehran, beseeching them to act to stop the violence against his supporters and to challenge the results of the election. "With all ways to secure their rights blocked, the innocent people are confronted with the silence of the clerics and this will bring more damage than a change in votes," he said in a statement on his website. The chief of the Electoral Commission, Kamran Daneshjoo, announced on state-run television yesterday afternoon that Mr Ahmadinejad had won 63.36 per cent of the vote against 34.07 per cent for Mr Mousavi. He said turnout was around 80 per cent of the country's 46.2 million electorate. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hailed the result as a "real feast" and a "divine blessing" that would "guarantee the country's progress, national security and lasting joy", and urged the nation to accept the result. But Mr Mousavi blasted the election as a "dangerous charade" that undermined the legitimacy of the state, and vowed to fight the result. Fellow opposition presidential contender, 72-year-old Mehdi Karrubi, said the results and the government that they will produce, were "illegitimate and unacceptable". On the social networking website facebook, which in the past has been banned in Iran, many Iranian users posted green signs saying "Where is my vote?". Reformist websites, however, were blocked as were most foreign news websites, including the BBC and CNN. Text messaging - a key campaign tool in the run-up to the election - had been down since Thursday. Critics of the vote point to a number of unusual developments that they say indicate foul play. Candidates in Iran, for instance, generally enjoy popularity in their hometowns, but according to the pro-Ahmadinejad Raja News - one of the news sites that was not blocked - Mr Mousavi garnered only around 2,000 votes in his native East Azarbaijan, compared to 5,000 for Mr Ahmadinejad. Likewise for Mr Karrubi, who won 14,512 votes in Lorestan province against 39,690 for Mr Ahmadinejad. Mr Mousavi and Mr Karrubi both complained that their representatives were prevented from supervising the voting and counting procedures and the Mousavi camp say polling stations suspiciously ran out of ballot cards. Mr Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a university professor who has been prominent in her husband's election campaign, told BBC Persia they had requested a meeting with Mr Khamenei to discuss the alleged voting irregularities. Local media reported the other candidates had made the same request. However, Mr Khamenei's address on national television praised the performance of the interior ministry - as executor of the election - and the Guardian Council, which acts as an electoral supervisory body. He warned that "the enemies [of Iran] may want to spoil the sweetness of this event ? with some kind of ill-intentioned provocations". Those who oppose Mr Ahmadinejad blame him for squandering Iran's mineral wealth and leading the country into economic free fall, as it struggles with record high rates of unemployment and inflation. They also criticise him for isolating Iran internationally. While the results were met with much scepticism and anger in Iran, a number of allies were quick to congratulate Mr Ahmadinejad on securing another four years in power. Syria, Venezuela and Hamas all praised the results, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez saying the victory represented "the feeling and commitment of the Iranian people to building a new world". Western countries were guarded over the result and the alleged voting irregularities. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in Canada, said: "We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people." The White House also said in a statement it was monitoring supposed irregularities. The Canadian foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, however, said he was "deeply concerned". For his part, Mr Ahmadinejad, speaking in his victory address last night, said the election was a "great victory". "Today, the people of Iran have inspired other nations and disappointed their ill-wishers," he said. Farideh Farhi, an Iran analyst at the University of Hawaii, disagreed: the election, she said, was "brazenly stolen" by the regime. "It is a shameful day for them and a sad day for Iran." * The National