Scrutiny turns to Iran’s supreme leader on Friday, when he will deliver a sermon to a nation that has been swept up in several days of post-election protests.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is to speak at mid-day Friday during prayers at Tehran University. That’s according to the Basij militia, a voluntary paramilitary force that takes orders from the government. Khamenei’s speech will be scrutinized for signs of how the government plans to resolve a political stalemate that ensued after Iran’s hardline president won re-election by a huge margin, quickly prompting allegations of ballot fraud. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, sermons during Friday prayers have been delivered by prominent officials, including by the supreme leader on occasion. If Khamenei supports President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as he did immediately after the election results were announced, he risks being seen as ignoring the groundswell of opposition calling for a new election. But if he appears to support the election’s putative loser, Mir Hossein Moussavi, he could be seen as undermining both the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s regime and perhaps even his own position as supreme leader of Iran. The Guardian Council, which supervises the country’s elections, said Thursday it is looking into the complaints questioning the validity of the election outcome. On Thursday, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Iran’s capital for the sixth day in a row to protest the election results. Some estimates put the total number of participants in the hundreds of thousands.
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Moussavi spoke through a bullhorn from atop a building to the throngs of marchers who snaked through the city, in what was described as a peaceful protest. He spoke hours after the Iranian government agreed to meet with candidates to discuss complaints stemming from the election, a journalist at the scene told CNN. Watch latest CNN report » Ahmadinejad has not made a public appearance since Sunday. Daily protests quickly followed his re-election. The demonstrations have claimed at least eight lives, according to Iran’s government-funded Press TV. Seven of those were protesters who were killed as they attacked a military post after a rally Monday, the government said. There have been several other incidents of violence since the election, some of which Moussavi supporters blamed on the Basij militia. Watch militia crackdown » Press TV reported Thursday that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said it had arrested a number of “main agents” behind vandalism during the daily demonstrations. The government refused to allow international reporters to cover Moussavi’s remarks Thursday, but messages sent on the social networking site Twitter said he talked about the country’s economic problems and corruption. “Twenty-five percent inflation means ignorance, thieving, corruption. Where is the wealth of my nation,” Moussavi said, according to a Twitter message. “Iran must participate in fair elections, it is a matter of national importance,” the messages quoted him as saying. The current Iranian government is not what Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 Islamic revolution, would have wanted for Iran, the Twitter messages quoted Moussavi as saying. Because of the government restrictions on newsgathering, CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the messages. Moussavi, 67, was a confidant of Ruhollah Khomeini, who died in 1989. Moussavi also served as the country’s prime minister in the early years of the Islamic republic and during the country’s war with Iraq in the 1980s. A journalist at the scene said the opposition rally in Tehran proceeded peacefully. See where protests have taken place » Many of the marchers wore black, signifying mourning for those who have died in post-election violence. The demonstrators — many of whom also wore bands of green, showing support for Moussavi — started their marches from mosques across the Iranian capital and converged Thursday afternoon in a city square. Some began their march from Imam Khomeini Square, near the city’s Grand Bazaar. That starting location is significant because it was there, three decades ago, that supporters of the Islamists now in power turned out en masse to criticize the regime of the shah of Iran. Watch marchers in Khomeini Square » The journalist at the scene told CNN that marchers converged in Imam Khomeini Square and then snaked through streets toward Revolutionary Square near Tehran University. Conditions were more relaxed and less vocal than they had been on Wednesday. Marchers drank juice and mineral water as they tramped through the streets. The journalist said there were no reports of injuries and he saw only ordinary police — not anti-riot police — on the scene. Read about Iran’s power structure »
In some cases, witnesses said, Moussavi supporters — carrying placards, posters and peace signs — approached police officers in silence and smiled; the officers smiled back. On reaching Revolutionary Square, the marchers dispersed, he said.