Iran’s parliament speaker criticizes election authority

Demonstrators are sprayed with a water hose Saturday by Iranian security forces.
Iran’s influential parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani implied Saturday that the election authority sided with a certain candidate as thousands of defiant anti-government protesters once again swept into the streets of the capital.

A stream of videos posted on social networking Web sites depicted tense scenes and chaos — sounds of gunshots, images of helicopters whirring overhead and wounded men and women being carried away. The extent of deaths or injuries remained unclear. The Ministry of Culture on Saturday banned international media from reporting on the demonstrations unless they had received permission from Iranian authorities. Sources at one Tehran hospital confirmed 19 deaths in seven days of post-election protests. “Although the Guardian Council is made up of religious individuals, I wish certain members would not side with a certain presidential candidate,” Larijani told the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on Saturday, without naming whom he meant. The comments were reported on government-funded Press TV and on another news Web site, Khabaronline, Sunday. Followers of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi have alleged that the council, which approves all candidates running for office and verifies election results, declared hard-line incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the elections despite indications of ballot fraud. Larijani’s statement was in direct contrast to that of Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who considers the possibility of ballot irregularities in the presidential elections as almost nonexistant. “The possibility of organized and comprehensive disruption and irregularities in this election is almost close to zero given the composition of the people who are holding the election,” he told foreign diplomats on Sunday. Mottaki blamed Britain for interfering in the elections, saying it had been planning against the vote for more than a year. “We witnessed an influx of people from the U.K. ahead of the election,” he said, without offering specifics. Mottaki accused Britain of supporting followers of the Baha’i faith, a religion that originated in 19th-century Persia but which Iran does not recognize. He also said the West expects a different model of democracy from developing countries. “Our understanding of election rules is that one who secures the majority of the votes wins,” he said. “Regarding developing countries, will democracy assume a new definition in developing countries” In a sermon Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared the elections a “definitive victory” for Ahmadinejad and rejected charges of vote-rigging. “A majority of people are of an opinion separate” from that of a minority, Larijani said. While Larijani and Ahmadinejad have had a tense relationship in the past, he is seen as being aligned with Khamenei. For him to directly contradict the leader’s statement amounts to another example of the public airing of rift among ruling conservatives. Earlier last week, Larijani blamed the Interior Ministry for a bloody crackdown on civilians who have protested daily since the elections. The Interior Ministry is aligned with Ahmadinejad. Watch how unrest in Iran turned violent » Larijani, who once headed the television station, asked it to tone down the rhetoric and called on the Guardian Council to look into the protester’s allegations thoroughly. Saturday’s protests were in stark contrast to those earlier in the week when millions of Moussavi supporters marched in silence, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen told CNN. Cohen said he witnessed women beaten with sticks and truncheons “staggering off the main street clutching their faces.” “I saw a young man who had been hit with what he said was a baton with an electricity shock,” he said. Share images from Iran One woman, Shahnaz, said riot police used batons and water hoses to keep her and about 300 other people from reaching Revolution Square in central Tehran. CNN is identifying Shahnaz only by her first name for safety reasons. Saturday’s protests were held in open defiance of warnings issued by Khamenei and the country’s Security Council. Both had said protest organizers, specifically Moussavi, would be held accountable if the protests led to bloodshed. Moussavi seemed to be encouraging demonstrators to continue their protests with messages posted on his page on Facebook, the social networking Web site that has proven to be a key source of information in the absence of international media coverage. Watch how social networking Web sites spread word on Iran news » “Today you are the media,” said one message. “It is your duty to report and keep the hope alive.” Earlier on Saturday, Moussavi declared on Facebook that he was ready for “martyrdom.” That message urged his supporters to “protest” and “not go to work.” CNN could not determine the authenticity of the messages. As they have done all week, videos — many taken with cell phone cameras by people on the streets– told the story Saturday. See images of the clashes Saturday » One captured a woman trying to protect a man being beaten and kicked by protesters near a motorcycle in flames. Others showed that the unrest had spread beyond the capital to the cities of Isfahan and Shiraz, where police clad in riot gear dispersed a crowd at a university, beating screaming women with their batons. In a story posted on the Press TV Web site, Iran’s deputy police commander said 400 police personnel had been wounded since the opposition rallies began last weekend. Demonstrators gathered in major cities in France, the United States and Germany to condemn Iran’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tehran. In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama urged the Iranian government to stop the violence against its citizens. “The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching,” Obama said in a written statement. “We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.” On Saturday night, the Iranian state-run news agency IRINN said an attacker had been killed earlier in the day outside Tehran at the entrance to the mausoleum that holds the body of Ayatollah Khomeini. The agency said the man “carrying the bomb” was killed, and there were no other casualties. Press TV reported that the bomber was the sole fatality, and that three other people were wounded at the shrine to Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Revolution that swept the Shah of Iran from power in 1979. Khomeini is regarded as the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In a related development, a witness reported a fire near the French Embassy, apparently caused by nearby debris that had been set ablaze.

Meanwhile, the Iranian government said Saturday it is ready to randomly recount up to 10 percent of “ballot boxes.” The Guardian Council said it had received more than 600 complaints of irregularities from the three candidates.