Iranian Rally Is Dispersed as Voting Errors Are Admitted
By NAZILA FATHI and ALAN COWELL
Published: June 22, 2009
TEHRAN — Hours after a warning from the powerful Revolutionary Guards not to return to the streets, about a thousand protesters defiantly gathered in central Tehran on Monday and were quickly dispersed in an overwhelming show of force by police who used clubs and tear gas.
The protesters, far fewer than the numbers who had attended mass rallies last week, turned out despite the warning, on the Guards’ Web site, that they would face a “revolutionary confrontation” if they continued to challenge the results of the June 12 election and their country’s supreme leader, who has pronounced the ballot to be fair.
Security forces descended on a separate crowd of hundreds who had gathered at a square to memorialize Neda Soltan, the young woman whose shooting death at a rally over the weekend was captured on video and circulated around the world.
Despite the Ayatollah’s insistence of the election’s legitimacy, Iran’s most senior panel of election monitors, in the most sweeping acknowledgment that the election was flawed, said Monday that the number of votes cast in 50 cities exceeded the actual number of voters, according to a state television report.
The discrepancies could affect some three million ballots of what the government says was 40 million cast, giving the official victory to the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The authorities insisted that the discrepancies did not violate Iranian law. The Guardian Council, charged with certifying the election, said it was not clear whether they would decisively change the result, which placed Mir Hussein Moussavi — who contends the election was stolen from him — in a distant second.
He has urged his supporters to continue their defiance, but he could face arrest for doing so.
“Moussavi’s calling for illegal protests and issuing provocative statements have been a source of recent unrests in Iran,” Ali Shahrokhi, head of parliament’s judiciary committee, semi-official Fars news agency reported, according to Reuters. “Such criminal acts should be confronted firmly.”
He added: “The ground is paved to legally chase Moussavi.”
Mr. Moussavi, the more moderate of the candidates, used a posting on his Web site Sunday night to urge his supporters to demonstrate peacefully, despite warnings from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that no protests of the vote would be allowed.
“Protesting to lies and fraud is your right,” Mr. Moussavi said.
In an apparent response, a Guards statement Monday told protesters to “be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the Guards, Basij and other security forces and disciplinary forces” if they took their protests into a second week, news reports said.
The Basij is a militia accused by the protesters of brutally repressing demonstrations that culminated in a day of bloodshed on Saturday that ended in the deaths of at least 10 protesters, according to the state television.
The Guards told demonstrators Monday to “end the sabotage and rioting activities,” calling their protests a “conspiracy” against Iran. The warning echoed remarks by a Foreign Ministry spokesman who blamed western governments and media for the unrest.
The official result gave Mr. Ahmadinejad 63 percent of the ballots — an 11-million vote advantage — to Mr. Moussavi’s 34 percent. Turnout was put at 85 percent.
At a news conference Monday, Hassan Qashqavi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, called the turnout a “brilliant gem which is shining on the peak of dignity of the Iranian nation.”
He accused unidentified western powers and news organizations, which are operating under extremely tight official restrictions, of spreading unacceptable “anarchy and vandalism.” But, he said, the outcome of the vote would not be changed. “We will not allow western media to turn this gem into a worthless stone,” he said.
Mr. Qashqavi drew comparisons with American election results.
“No one encouraged the American people to stage a riot” because they disagreed with the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, he said. Britain’s Foreign Office said Monday that because of the continuing unrest it would evacuate the families of staff members based in Iran. A spokeswoman, who spoke in return for anonymity under civil service rules, said the violence in Tehran “had a significant impact on the families of our staff who have been unable to carry on their lives as normal.”
Quoted earlier by Press TV, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for the 12-member Guardian Council denied claims by another losing candidate, Mohsen Rezai, that irregularities had occurred in up to 170 voting districts.
“Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100 percent of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80 to 170 cities are not accurate — the incident has happened in only 50 cities,” Mr. Kadkhodaei said.
But he said that a voter turnout in excess of the registered voting list was a “normal phenomenon” because people could legally vote in areas other than those in which they were registered. Nonetheless, some analysts in Tehran said, the number of people said to be traveling on election day seemed unusually high.
The news emerged on the English-language Press TV Web site late Sunday as a bitter rift among Iran’s ruling clerics deepened. As increasingly violent protests have swirled through Tehran since the elections, Ayatollah Khamenei has ordered the Guardian Council to investigate the opposition’s allegations of electoral fraud. The council itself has offered a random partial recount of 10 percent of the ballot.
Mr. Kadkhodaei said the Guardian Council could recount votes in areas where irregularities were said by the opposition to have occurred. But “it has yet to be determined whether the possible change in the tally is decisive in the election results.”
The opposition has alleged a total of 646 electoral irregularities and is demanding that the vote be annulled. But in a sermon at Friday prayers last week Ayatollah Khamenei mocked the idea that the huge margin attributed to Mr. Ahmadinejad could have been won through fraud.
On Sunday, the police detained five relatives of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who leads two influential councils and openly supported Mr. Moussavi’s election. The relatives, including Mr. Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, were released after several hours.
The developments, coming one day after protests here in the capital and elsewhere were crushed by police officers and militia members using guns, clubs, tear gas and water cannons, suggested that Ayatollah Khamenei was facing entrenched resistance among some members of the elite.
Though rivalries have been part of Iranian politics since the 1979 revolution, analysts said that open factional competition amid a major political crisis could hinder Ayatollah Khamenei’s ability to restore order.
There was no verifiable accounting of the death toll from the bloodshed on Saturday, partly because the government has imposed severe restrictions on news coverage and warned foreign reporters who remained in the country to stay off the streets.
It also ordered the BBC’s longtime correspondent expelled and Newsweek’s correspondent detained.
State television said that 10 people had died in the weekend clashes, while radio reports said 19. The news agency ISNA said 457 people had been arrested.
In the network of Internet postings and Twitter messages that has become the opposition’s major tool for organizing and sharing information, a powerful and vivid new image emerged: a video posted on several Web sites that showed a young woman, called Neda, her face covered in blood. Text posted with the video said she had been shot. It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the video.
The Web site of another reformist candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, referred to her as a martyr who did not “have a weapon in her soft hands or a grenade in her pocket but became a victim by thugs who are supported by a horrifying security apparatus.”
On Monday,several hundred gathered at Haft-e-Tir Square to attend a memorial for the woman, but were quickly chased away by police and security officers. One witness said the officers violently beat and arrested people who attended the vigil, then attacked people nearby who were seen filming the events from their homes.
Mr. Moussavi, meanwhile, was not seen in public on Sunday but showed no sign of yielding. In his Web posting, he urged followers to “avoid violence in your protest and behave as though you are the parents that have to tolerate your children’s misbehavior at the security forces.”
He also warned the government to “avoid mass arrests, which will only create distance between society and the security forces.”
Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Alan Cowell from London. Michael Slackman contributed reporting from Cairo, and Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting from New York.