Massive Protests Continue in Iranian Capital; Government Offers Limited Recount

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TEHRAN (NY Times)–Iran’s leaders failed Wednesday to halt a second day of huge demonstrations against last week’s election results but, placed on the defensive, offered another concession to the sustained rage here, saying they would allow a limited recount.

They received a resounding refusal–first from reformist politicians who said they would accept only a new election and then on the streets of the capital. Supporters of the defeated opposition presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, jammed into a line more than a mile long. They marched mostly in silence, some carrying signs in English asking, “Where is my vote?’’

The numbers of opposition protesters did not match those on Monday, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians joined in the largest public demonstration since the Islamic revolution in 1979, enraged that the conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner of Friday’s elections with 63 percent of the vote.

Fear, many said, was a factor: Seven protesters were killed overnight, the gritty and uncensored images, some taken by cell phone camera, beamed around the world via the Internet.

“Nothing will change if we don’t come,’’ said one protester, Madjid, 26, an employee of the foreign minister who was afraid to give his family name. “We need to become a big force to achieve what we want.’’

Worry over the future of Iran – crucially important for its oil, position next to Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear program, and ties to extremist groups – spilled over its borders.

In Washington, President Obama said that it would be counterproductive for the United States “to be seen as meddling’’ in the disputed Iranian presidential election, dismissing criticism that he has failed to speak out forcefully enough against the growing unrest in Iran.

“I have deep concerns about the election,’’ Obama said yesterday. “I think that the world has deep concerns about the election.’’

As the confrontation inside Iran continued to build momentum yesterday, each side laid down more cards.

Reformers, with substantial popular support but without the power of the state, worked to gain religious credentials, urging clerics to break with the government.

“No one in his sane mind can accept these results,’’ a senior opposition cleric, Hassan-Ali Montazari, said in an outspokenly critical public letter posted on his website.

The government, meanwhile, sought to limit the damage: cracking down with only limited success on electronic media, revoking press credentials for foreign journalists, and ordering journalists not to report on the streets. Ahmadinejad’s supporters – though apparently fewer than 10,000 of them – marched through Tehran’s streets, proclaiming their candidate the winner and chanting, “Rioters should be executed.’’

In an intervention that suggested growing concern over the scale of the protests, the nation’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took the unusual step of meeting with representatives of the four presidential candidates, urging national unity for the second time in recent days. He did not address the protesters’ demands for new elections.

Meanwhile, the Guardian Council, the watchdog body that must certify the results, said it was willing to conduct a partial recount of the votes, IRNA news agency reported. Khamenei, who had urged the council on Monday to examine the vote-rigging claim, said yesterday that the candidates needed to resolve the issue through legal channels.

Moussavi’s representative, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, said a recount would not meet the demands of the protesters, reported Ghalamnews, a website linked to Moussavi.

“We believe there has been fraud because our representatives were not allowed to supervise the elections and we have evidence of many irregularities,’’ Mohtashamipour said.

He gave an example: Votes cast at some polling stations, he said, were more than the number of eligible voters in those areas. He also said that Guardian Council had not been impartial before the election, some of its members even campaigning for Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad, appearing to try to project a secure grip on power, left Iran to fly to Russia on Tuesday for a meeting on international security.

Leaders in Western Europe also continued to voice concerns, with the strongest remarks coming from President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who said on Tuesday that the “extent of the fraud’’ in Iran was “proportional to the violent reaction’’ there, news services reported.

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