Iranian protesters to defy supreme leader’s warning

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks to a crowd in Tehran during Friday prayers.
A protest rally was scheduled to go ahead in Tehran Saturday despite warnings from Iran’s supreme leader.

The rally against last week’s disputed presidential vote was scheduled to begin at around 4 p.m. Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET). It was being sponsored by supporters of opposition candidates Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karrubi. However another by supporters of former President Mohammed Khatami had been canceled, state media reported. CNN could not independently confirm the information with opposition leaders. No permits had been issued for either event, the Interior Ministry told Iran’s FARS news agency. Many who said they planned to protest Saturday wrote to one another on the social networking site Twitter early Saturday. Some wondered whether there would be violence at the protests. “Let the Qu’ran shield you. It’s a mortal sin to kill anyone holding the Qu’ran. BRING your Qu’ran to protest!!!” one person wrote on Twitter. “We will try 2 keep this rally peaceful/silent as usual at every cost. Cant give them excuse 2 use force. Hope they wont,” another said. CNN is not using the posters’ names for safety reasons. Both said they were in Iran, but CNN could not verify that. Share images from Iran News coverage in Iran has been limited by government restrictions on international journalists.

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On Friday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, called for an end to the protests in a speech during prayers at Tehran University. Khamenei also declared last week’s election a “definitive victory” for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and he rejected allegations of vote-rigging. Watch Khamenei deny allegations of vote-rigging » “Any extremist move will fan up another extremist move,” Khamenei said, criticizing the street protests. Those who caused violence during demonstrations would be held accountable, he said. “If the political elite want to ignore law and break the law and take wrong measures which are harmful, willy-nilly, they will be held accountable for all the violence and blood and rioting.” The opposition, after staging large demonstrations for six days, must consider whether to cross the line that Khamenei seemed to draw. Watch more on defiant protesters » The supreme leader called on those who don’t believe the election results to use legal avenues, such as requesting a recounting of ballots in their presence. The Guardian Council, which supervises the country’s elections, has invited three candidates — Moussavi, Karrubi and Mohsen Rezaie — to its meeting Saturday, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. However, Iran’s Press TV said Moussavi and Karrubi did not attend the meeting, where concerns and complaints over last week’s disputed presidential elections were supposed to be aired.

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Khamenei did not issue a call for a revote, which opposition leaders have demanded. Human rights monitor Amnesty International issued a statement in response to Khamenei’s speech, saying it “indicates the authorities’ readiness to launch violent crackdowns if people continue to protest, which may cause a widespread loss of life.” “We are extremely disturbed at statements made by Ayatollah Khamenei, which seem to give the green light to security forces to violently handle protesters exercising their right to demonstrate and express their views,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program. Khamenei should have warned security officers to act with restraint, Amnesty International said. A top U.N. human rights official also said she was concerned about reports of excessive force and arrests at the protests. “The legal basis of the arrests that have been taking place, especially those of human rights defenders and political activists, is not clear,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that militia members and regular law enforcement agencies do not resort to illegal acts of violence.”

The government has maintained that the post-election death toll stands at seven. Amnesty International said on Friday that reports suggested up to 15 people had died. An activist told CNN that the death toll had climbed to 32, with 12 of those victims in Tehran. Because of the Iranian government’s restrictions on newsgathering, CNN could not independently verify the reports.