Thousands rally in Iran; foreign coverage restricted

Al-Alam footage shows Ahmadinejad supporters rallying Tuesday in central Tehran.
As thousands took to the streets again on Tuesday, Iran’s government banned international journalists from covering rallies and blocked access to some online communication tools in the wake of last week’s disputed presidential election.

Reporters working for international news outlets, including CNN, could talk about the rallies in their live reports but were not allowed to leave their hotel rooms and offices. The decision was an apparent reaction to video showing violence at recent demonstrations in support of Mir Hossein Moussavi, who is disputing the results of Friday’s presidential election. The government has criticized some of that coverage and the images, describing them as biased. Iran’s all-powerful leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appealed to the citizenry on Tuesday to stand behind the Islamic republic. “Some people are against the unity of the Iranian nation and the solidarity of the Islamic system,” Khamenei said in a meeting with representatives of the four presidential candidates, government-funded Press TV reported. “Such acts and vandalism and some crimes that were committed are not related to the candidates’ supporters, but to disturbers of peace, and all should stand against them,” Khamenei said. Also Tuesday, Iranian security forces arrested three reformist politicians — including former Iranian Vice President Mohammed Ali Abtahi — for their alleged involvement in orchestrating the post-election violence, according Press TV. Abtahi is an adviser to presidential candidate and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi. Iranian government-run television was not affected by the media restrictions. It aired live coverage of Tuesday’s rally in support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose supporters crowded the streets of central Tehran. Watch government coverage of a pro-Ahmadinejad rally » Meanwhile, Iran’s Guardian Council — an unelected panel of 12 top clerics and judges — agreed Tuesday to recount some votes in the disputed presidential election. But Moussavi asked instead for fresh elections.

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A former Iranian parliamentary speaker addressed the pro-Ahmadinejad rally, calling on Moussavi to accept defeat. “I would like to tell Mr. Moussavi that this is not the right thing before the election is held,” Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said, according to Press TV. “It is not the right thing that people close to you tell people that if you happen to see that Ahmadinejad has become victorious in the election.” Moussavi asked his supporters to forgo their planned rally Tuesday in the same area as the pro-Ahmadinejad gathering at Vali Asr Square in central Tehran. Instead, his supporters gathered at another location in Tehran, according to video footage of the rally. In addition to restricting international journalists, Iran blocked access to certain online communication tools — text and video — but many Iranians were able to find a way around the restrictions. Watch how cyberspace is used by opposition » Moussavi has contested the results of Friday’s election, which showed an overwhelming victory for Ahmadinejad. His supporters have taken to the streets every day since the election, often clashing with police and Ahmadinejad’s backers. Iran’s Guardian Council met with the three opposition candidates — Moussavi, Mehdi Karrubi and Mohsen Rezaie — and asked them to specify the areas where they wanted a recount, a council spokesman told the official Islamic Republic News Agency. Watch how the decision may not satisfy the opposition » But Moussavi, whose supporters have alleged ballot fraud, wants Iran to hold fresh elections, an official close to the opposition leader’s camp told CNN. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a recount would provide another opportunity for the government to manipulate the results. He said the council ordered the printing of 53 million ballots for the elections, but only 39 million were used. Fourteen million ballots were missing. Reformist cleric Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a Moussavi representative, urged the council to form a truth-finding commission to investigate electoral irregularities, Press TV reported, citing the Iranian Labor News Agency. Mohtashamipour cited 70 voting districts where the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of eligible voters. He called the process “fundamentally flawed.” “We are convinced this election is invalid from its foundations and must be repeated,” he said. Ahmadinejad’s victory surprised many experts who had expected Moussavi to win. Moussavi, a former prime minister regarded as a reformist, enjoys tremendous support among the youth, who make up almost 60 percent of Iran’s population of 70 million. He tapped into their dissatisfaction with the faltering economy under Ahmadinejad and with an unemployment rate that tops 30 percent by some accounts. But Kaveh Afrasiabi, a political scientist who supports Ahmadinejad, said the incumbent’s widespread support in rural areas and small towns was the reason for his win with more than 62 percent of the vote. Seven people were killed Monday night in the capital, Tehran, after they allegedly attacked a military post near Azadi — or Freedom — Square, according to Press TV. On the ground in Iran An official with the Moussavi camp said eight of his supporters were killed in clashes with Ahmadinejad supporters after Monday’s rally. Moussavi had appeared at the rally earlier Monday, his first public appearance since the election. There, he called on authorities to stop attacks on his supporters and urged his followers to continue demonstrating peacefully. “You are not breaking glass,” he said. “You are breaking tyranny.” Watch Christiane Amanpour report from rally » Ahmadinejad was in Russia on Tuesday to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev. There, he was welcomed as the “newly re-elected president of Iran,” with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov telling reporters, “the issue of elections in Iran is an internal affair of the Iranian people.” Ahmadinejad was back in Iran later Tuesday, Press TV reported. Reaction from other world leaders to the disputed election has been, for the most part, guarded. In Washington, President Obama reiterated his “deep concerns” about the elections during a White House Rose Garden appearance Tuesday with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. “When I see violence directed at peaceful protesters, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, wherever that takes place, it is of concern to me and of concern to the American people,” he said. “My hope is that the Iranian people will take the right steps in order for them to be able to express their voices, express their aspirations.”

Criticism of the election in Iran earned the representatives of several European nations — Britain, the Czech Republic, France, German, Italy and the Netherlands — a visit to Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, where each received a notice of protest for interfering in Iran’s internal affairs, according to Press TV. The European Union had expressed concern about the use of force against protesters.