07/02/2009, 00.00
IRAN
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Tehran steps up crackdown as protest continues

Mousavi and Kharroubi describe current government as “illegitimate”, call for a strike. Khatami and some ayatollahs back them. The regime threatens to indict Mousavi, shuts down Kharroubi’s newspaper and opens an investigation into doctor who tried to save Neda. Rumours are circulating that some protesters have been hanged. Ahmadinejad cancels trip to African summit.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Increasingly there are signs that Iran’s protest movement is not abating. A general strike has been called for 5-8 July; a new political group is being set up to defend the rights of the population; the defeated presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Kharroubi have described President Ahmadinejad’s government as illegitimate whilst pro-reform former President Mohammad Khatami has called the election “a coup d’état”.

Some important ayatollahs have also taken a stance against the election result as the sound 'Allah Akbar? (God is great) reverberates at night across Tehran rooftops.

Similarly, eyebrows are also being raised as the official vote recount is underway when ballots with Ahmadinejad’s name appear unfolded, which is quite unusual according to online opposition magazine Rooz.

For its part the government is stepping up it crackdown whilst Basij “volunteers” call for Mousavi’s indictment, semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Arash Hejazi instead fled to Great Britain. He is the physician who tried to save Neda Aqa-Soltan, a young woman who became the protest movement’s iconic figure after she was shot to death during a demonstration. 

The authorities shut down Etemad Melli, a newspaper close to Mehdi Kharroubi—they have also been trying to identify those bloggers who are still reporting what is going on in Iran.

The Jerusalem Post reported today that six Mousavi supporters were recently hanged, something which Iran’s police Chief Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moghaddam did not mention when he explained that 20 people were killed and more than 1,000 arrested during the wave of protests that followed the presidential election.

“No policeman was killed in the Tehran riots but 20 rioters were killed,” he pointed out.

As for Neda Agha-Soltan, he said that her death was a “prearranged scenario” unrelated to the unrest. This is why Dr Hejazi is wanted by the Security Ministry.

Some signs seem to suggest that, despite the regime’s best efforts, the protest movement is still not dead even though mass demonstrations are no longer taking place.

The first one is a note by IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, reporting that President Ahmadinejad will not attend a summit of African leaders in spite of an invitation by the leader of host country, the president’s friend Gaddafi.

Officially the reason for the cancelled trip is “European interference”, but such an explanation does not appear very plausible. Instead unfolding events at home are the most likely reason for the president not to leave Iran.

The second sign is a set of new statements by a number of grand ayatollahs in favour of Mousavi.

Rooz said that ayatollah Seyed Jalaleddin Taheri, “one of Ayatollah Khomeini's close friends and former Friday prayer leader in Iran’s Isfahan province”, declared the recent presidential election as invalid and described Ahmadinejad's reappointment to presidency for another four years as “illegitimate” and an “usurpation”.

Likewise Ayatollah Hadi Gafouri is quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying that the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] never wanted [current supreme leader and Ahmadinejad’s backer] Ali Khamenei to succeed him.

All this seems to suggest that Khamemei, who is the real power holder, is the target of the protest movement that has embroiled the religious establishment. And the latter’s involvement could determine the outcome of the confrontation.

The uncertainties at the domestic level are also reflected in Iran’s recent foreign policy moves, which have included a threat to keep Europe out of nuclear talks because of its alleged interference in Tehran’s affairs and the release of eight of nine Iranians employed at the British Embassy. British sources have indicated that the last should be freed today. (PD)

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