Mir-Hossein Mousavi 'ready for martyrdom' as Iranians defy Supreme Leader
Iran's defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi on Saturday night told his supporters he was ready for martyrdom, and demanded that the entire disputed election be annulled.
By Angus McDowall
Published: 6:12PM BST 20 Jun 2009
He dramatically raised the stakes in the standoff with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after publishing a letter to the country's highest electoral authority in which he cited examples of electoral fraud to support his "undeniable right" to call for a re-run of the election.
Mr Mousavi made his defiant call during a speech delivered in southwest Tehran, according to an ally, who telephoned a western news agency shortly afterwards to report: "Mousavi said he was ready for martyrdom and that he would continue his path."
A witness told Reuters that Mr Mousavi had called for a national strike if he was arrested.
It was an unprecedented act in defiance of Ayatollah Khamenei, who has declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the June 12 election and on Friday ordered an end to protests by demonstrators who say Mousavi was the winner.
It came as a few thousand protesters defied threats of bloodshed from Iran's rulers and attempted to march through central Tehran - only to be beaten back by riot police. Heavily armed police and militia flooded the streets and used tear gas and batons to attack them.
Only an estimated 3,000 dared to show themselves, far fewer than the hundreds of thousands who filled the streets during the last few weeks. The two main protest leaders, Mr Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were beaten by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the disputed poll nine days ago, had both called off their official rallies.
Earlier in the day, the pair had been offered a minor concession when the Guardian Council, which supervises elections, promised to recount 10 per cent of the votes to check for election fraud - a suggestion that had previously been dismissed by protesters as a cynical ploy to buy time.
In their first real show of force since massive street rallies erupted in central Tehran last week, the authorities deployed thousands of riot police and plainclothes Basij militiamen in the city centre. Helicopters buzzed menacingly overhead.
As protesters began to gather near the university campus, chanting "death to the dictatorship", the police set upon them with baton charges, water canons and tear gas.
"Lots of guards on motorbikes closed in on us and beat us brutally," one protester said. "As we were running away the basiji (militia) were waiting in side alleys with batons, but people opened their doors to us. Iran has become Palestine."
Another report described gunfire at a rally and at least one casualty. Separately, there were reports that a man had died in a bomb attack at the Ayatollah Khomeini shrine a few miles south of the city - likely to have been launched by one of the ethnic separatist groups that have carried out periodic attacks in Iran.
Yesterday's violence and Mr Mousavi's continued defiance came after a week of the biggest street protests seen in Iran for 30 years - and divisions between hardliners and reformists that mean the country may never be the same again.
Cordons of riot police, dressed in their military green uniforms with white stripes down the trouser legs and wearing heavy black helmets, stood in lines three deep along Enqelab (revolution) and Azadi (freedom) streets.
Together, the two roads form a long east-west highway bisecting the centre of the city and running past the main gates of Tehran University, a scene of turmoil throughout Iran's modern history.
It was along this street that millions of people surged to accompany Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he returned from exile to usher in Islamic rule in 1979.
According to a regular participant in last week's demonstrations, the protesters yesterday hoped to form large groups in side streets before bursting onto the main highway, thwarting attempts to disperse them.
Unconfirmed video footage posted online showed groups of people charging through the streets as teargas and smoke from a burning car swirled around them. Riot police and men with sticks could be seen in the background.