Ayatollah Warns Against Further Protests

ali-hamaneiTEHRAN (Irishtimes)–Iran’s Supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has used a much-anticipated public address to reject claims last week’s presidential election was rigged and to issue a stern warning to those alleging irregularities, saying they must cease their street protests.

During Friday prayers at Tehran University, traditionally the capital’s largest such gathering, the ayatollah struck an uncompromising tone.

He claimed that a record turnout for the presidential election showed how much the Iranian people supported the regime and he blamed foreign powers for interfering in Iranian affairs, singling out Britain as the “most treacherous”.

The election showed “religious democracy for the whole world to see”, the ayatollah said, adding that the huge turnout was a “political earthquake” for Iran’s enemies.

In a thinly veiled warning to Mir Hussein Mousavi, who was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s strongest challenger in the election held last week, the ayatollah said opposition leaders would be held responsible if they did not call for a halt to the mass demonstrations that have taken place in Tehran and other cities for seven consecutive days.

“If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible,” the ayatollah told an audience of tens of thousands yesterday, including Ahmadinejad, who had gathered on the campus.

“The result of the election comes from the ballot box, not from the street . . . Today the Iranian nation needs calm.”

At least seven people have been killed in the disturbances so far, according to state media.

An aide to Mousavi later said there were no plans to hold a rally over the weekend, even though his supporters had been widely expected to organize another demonstration today. It was the leader’s first public appearance since welcoming Ahmadinejad’s re-election last weekend.

The ayatollah lauded the president as “hard-working” and dismissed the notion that the election might have been fixed.

“The Islamic republic will never manipulate votes and commit treason,” he said. “The legal structure in this country does not allow vote-rigging.”

He claimed that the margin of Ahmadinejad’s victory proved that the election could not have been rigged.

He added: “If some people have doubts and evidence, it should be dealt with through legal ways – only through legal ways. I will never accept illegal innovations.”

Mousavi was conspicuous by his absence from the gathering, as state media had reported he would attend.

The ayatollah also blamed foreign media, saying they were responsible for portraying Mr Mousavi’s supporters as being opposed to the Islamic republic.

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