Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prepared to hold a victory rally Sunday, a day after he was declared the winner of the country’s presidential election, spurring violent street protests from opposition supporters who claimed ballot fraud.
Thousands of demonstrators, shouting “Death to the dictatorship” and “We want freedom,” burned police motorcycles, tossed rocks through store windows and set trash cans on fire on Saturday. Riot police charged back, spraying demonstrators with tear gas and clubbing many with batons. Ahmadinejad, who defended his “completely free” re-election in a television address Saturday night, is expected to again speak with reporters before the Sunday victory rally. Eighty-five percent of the country’s 46 million eligible voters went to the polls Friday — an unprecedented voter turnout, Iran’s interior ministry said. When the ballots were counted, the government declared Ahmadinejad the winner — with 62.63 percent of the vote. Watch as Ahmadinejad is declared the winner » The man many analysts had widely expected to win, Mir Hossein Moussavi, received 33.75 percent. Moussavi disputed the results, blaming “untrustworthy monitors.” Independent election observers were banned from polling places. “The results announced for the 10th presidential elections are astonishing,” he said in a statement. “People who stood in long lines and knew well who they voted for were utterly surprised by the magicians working at the television and radio broadcasting.” Angered by the returns, Moussavi’s supporters took to the streets Saturday. With handkerchiefs and surgical masks shielding them from the pungency of tear gas, they clashed openly with police in a rare challenge to the regime. Watch angry protesters take to streets »
Ahmadinejad hails election as protests grow
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Foreign reporters were blocked at every turn from covering the demonstration. The government reportedly shut down access to popular sites, such as Twitter, making it difficult for information to seep out to the outside world. Immediate reaction around the world was guarded, with the United States and Canada voicing concern over claims of voter irregularities. Ahmadinejad hailed the vote, saying it was a “great ordeal” but one that pointed “the way to the future.” “The people of Iran inspired hope for all nations and created a source of pride in the nation and disappointed all the ill wishers,” Ahmadinejad said in his television address. “This election was held at a juncture of history.” Analysts had expected Moussavi, a former prime minister regarded as a reformist, to defeat Ahmadinejad. Moussavi is credited for successfully navigating the Iranian economy during a bloody eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s. He also enjoyed tremendous support among the youth. Iran’s population has a median age of 27. But Ahmadinejad — despite being blamed for Iran’s economic turmoil over the past four years — maintains staunch support in rural areas.
No matter who had won, the ultimate power in Iran still resides with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The system was set up after Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 when the ruling monarchy was overthrown and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was forced into exile. Khamenei lauded the results and urged Iranians to support the re-elected president.