Tehran Election Protest Turns Deadly
Gunfire from a pro-government militia killed one man and wounded several others Monday after hundreds of thousands of chanting opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marched in central Tehran, supporting their pro-reform leader in his first public appearance since disputed elections. Security forces watched quietly, with shields and batons at their sides.
The outpouring in Azadi, or Freedom, Square for reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi followed a decision by Iran's most powerful figure for an
sham investigation into the vote-rigging allegations.
Later, a group of demonstrators with fuel canisters set a small fire at a compound of a volunteer militia linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard as the crowd dispersed from the square. As some tried to storm the building, people on the roof could be seen firing directly at the demonstrators at the northern edge of the square, away from the heart of the rally.
An Associated Press photographer saw one person fatally shot and several others who appeared to be seriously wounded.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that protests and some violence had broken out in several cities across Iran, including some traditionally seen as more conservative.
The United States was "deeply troubled" by reports of violence and arrests in Iran, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, but he added that the U.S. knows too little about the conduct of the election to say for sure whether there was fraud.
The chanting demonstrators had defied an Interior Ministry ban and streamed into central Tehran - an outpouring for reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi that swelled as more poured from buildings and side streets. The chanting crowd - many wearing the trademark green color of Mousavi's campaign - was more than five miles long, and based on previous demonstrations in the square and surrounding streets, its size was estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
|Gee, Mr. Kelly, what do you think?|
For the bulk of the day, the riot police and soldiers lining the protest were peaceful, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer from Tehran.
"I am ready to pay any price to materialize the ideals of you dear people," he said, speaking though a portable loudspeaker. "People feel their wisdom has been insulted. We have to pursue legal channels to regain our trampled rights and stop this last lie, and stand up to fraud and this astonishing charade."
Mousavi, wearing a gray striped shirt, said his solution was "canceling the result of this disputed election. This will have the least cost for our nation. Otherwise, nothing will remain of people's trust in the government and ruling system."
The crowd roared back: "Long live Mousavi."
According to a Twitter account bearing Mousavi's name, the opposition leader declared he was ready to stand in another election.
"This is not election. This is selection," read one English-language placard at the demonstration. Other marchers held signs proclaiming "We want our vote!" and raising their fingers in a V-for-victory salute.
"We want our president, not the one who was forced on us," said 28-year-old Sara, who gave only her first name because of fears of reprisals from authorities.
Hours earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directed one of Iran's most influential bodies, the Guardian Council, to examine the claims. But the move by Khamenei - who had earlier welcomed the election results - had no guarantee it would satisfy those challenging Ahmadinejad's re-election or quell days of rioting after Friday's election that left parts of Tehran scarred by flames and shattered store fronts.
The 12-member Guardian Council, made up of clerics and experts in Islamic law and closely allied to Khamenei, must certify election results and has the apparent authority to nullify an election. But it would be an unprecedented step. Claims of voting irregularities went before the council after Ahmadinejad's upset victory in 2005, but there was no official word on the outcome of the investigation and the vote stood.
More likely, the dramatic intervention by Khamenei could be an attempt to buy time in hopes of reducing the anti-Ahmadinejad anger. The prospect of spiraling protests and clashes is the ultimate nightmare for the Islamic establishment, which could be forced into back-and-forth confrontations and risks having the dissidents move past the elected officials and directly target the ruling theocracy.
The display of opposition unity Monday suggested a possible shift in tactics by authorities after cracking down hard during days of rioting. Although any rallies were outlawed earlier, security forces were not ordered to move against the sea of protesters - allowing them to vent their frustration and wave the green banners and ribbons of the symbolic color of Mousavi's movement.
State TV quoted Khamenei as ordering the Guardian Council to "carefully probe" the allegations of fraud, which were contained in a letter Mousavi submitted Sunday.
On Saturday, however, Khamenei urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a "divine assessment."
Palmer reports that Mousavi hadn't been seen in public since election day. He has been under house arrest and several other prominent opposition figures have been taken into custody.
The Iranian regime has cracked down on the flow information inside the country, blocking most social networking sites, many phone lines and Internet services. Foreign journalists have been urged to leave the country, reports Palmer.
Mousavi and his supporters have shown no sign of backing down against an expanding security clampdown - bringing their outrage to the streets for the third straight day over claims that Ahmadinejad stole last week's election with vote rigging and fraud.
Ahmadinejad claims to have won by a landslide - with more than 60 percent of the vote. The results came as a surprise to many Iranians and external observers who watched days of raucous street rallies by Mousavi's mostly young supporters in the days before the vote.
Palmer reported that as those supporters learned from state media on Friday night, just hours after voting, that Ahmadinejad had won, their frustration boiled over into angry street protests. More than 100 were arrested as protesters clashed in the streets with police, who fought back with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons.
Ahmadinejad dismissed the demonstrations as "not important from my point of view" and likened it to the intensity after a soccer game. "Some believed they would win, and then they got angry," he said at a news conference on Sunday. "It has no legal credibility. It is like the passions after a soccer match. ... The margin between my votes and the others is too much and no one can question it."
"In Iran, the election was a real and free one," he told a room packed with Iranian and foreign media.
Ahmadinejad was scheduled to attend a regional summit in Russia Monday, but the visit was canceled at the last minute. The Iranian Embassy in Moscow said the president's visit had been postponed and could not say whether it would be rescheduled.
Mohsen Mirdamadi, an opposition strategist, was one of several people arrested during the weekend rioting, reported Palmer who had to hide in a shop with her cameraman during the protests to avoid beating and possible arrest at the hands of the police. Four days ago, Mirdamadi told CBS News there would be trouble if Mousavi lost.
"The main problem is that the people can't accept this is a real result," he told Palmer. "They won't believe it."
The re-election of Iran's hard-line president, meanwhile, signaled an increasingly difficult road ahead for President Obama's hopes for ending Tehran's nuclear threat.
The accusations also have brought growing international concern. On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden raised questions about whether the vote reflected the wishes of the Iranian people.
Britain and Germany joined the calls of alarm over the rising confrontations in Iran. In Paris, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador to discuss the allegations of vote tampering and the violence.
Overnight, police and hard-line militia stormed the campus at the city's biggest university, ransacking dormitories and arresting dozens of students angry over what they say was mass election fraud. The nighttime gathering of about 3,000 students at dormitories of Tehran University started with students chanting "Death to the dictator," but it quickly erupted into clashes as students threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police, who fought back with tear gas and plastic bullets, said a 25-year-old student at the university who witnessed the fighting. He would only give one name, Akbar, out of fears for his safety.
The students set a truck and other vehicles on fire and hurled stones and bricks at the police, he said. Hard-line militia volunteers loyal to the Revolutionary Guard stormed the dormitories, ransacking student rooms and smashing computers and furniture with axes and wooden sticks, Akbar said.
Before leaving around 4 a.m., the police took away memory cards and computer software material, Akbar said, adding that dozens of students were arrested.
He said many students suffered bruises, cuts and broken bones in the scuffling and that there was still smoldering garbage on the campus by midmorning but that the situation had calmed down. "Many students are now leaving to go home to their families, they are scared," he said. "But others are staying. The police and militia say they will be back and arrest any students they see."
"I want to stay because they beat us and we won't retreat," he added.
One of Mousavi's Web sites, said a student protester was killed early Monday during clashes with plainclothes hard-liners in Shiraz, southern Iran. But there was no independent confirmation of the report. There also have been unconfirmed reports of unrest breaking out in other cities across Iran.
Posted by: Steve White 2009-06-15