TEHRAN, Iran – Iran accused the United States on Wednesday of “intolerable” meddling in its internal affairs, alleging for the first time that Washington has fueled a bitter postelection dispute. Opposition supporters marched in Tehran’s streets for a third straight day to protest the outcome of the balloting.
The Iranian government summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, to complain about American interference, state-run Press TV reported.
The English-language channel quoted the government as calling Western interference “intolerable.”
President Barack Obama has reacted cautiously to developments in Iran, saying he shared the world’s “deep concerns about the election” but adding that it was “not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.”
The two countries broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
A crackdown on dissent continued, with more arrests of opposition figures reported, and the country’s most powerful military force – the Revolutionary Guard – saying that Iranian Web sites and bloggers must remove any materials that “create tension” or face legal action.
Amateur video showed thousands of people marching on an overpass in Tehran in support of pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. He has accused the government of rigging the election in favour of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Marchers flashed the victory sign or carried placards, and some were dressed in green – the colour of Mousavi’s campaign.
It was the third day in a row that Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets, and he called for another demonstrations on Thursday – a direct challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the cleric-led system.
Khamenei has told Mousavi to pursue his demands through the electoral system and called for Iranians to unite behind their Islamic government, an extraordinary appeal in response to tensions over the vote. But Mousavi appears unwilling to back down, issuing on his Web site a call for a mass demonstration Thursday.
“We want a peaceful rally to protest the unhealthy trend of the election and realize our goal of annulling the results,” Mousavi said.
He called for his followers to wear or carry black in mourning for the alleged election fraud and the deaths of protesters, and said there should be “a new presidential election that will not repeat the shameful fraud from the previous election.”
Mousavi and his supporters accuse the government of rigging the June 12 election to declare hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the overwhelming winner. Their street protests, paired with dissent from powerful clerical and political figures, have presented one of the gravest threats to Iran’s complex blend of democracy and religious authority since the system emerged from the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In another high-profile display of apparent opposition support, several Iranian soccer players wore green wrist bands during a World Cup qualifying match in South Korea that was televised in Iran.
Mousavi’s Web site said seven Iranian players wore the green bands in the first half of the game, although most were forced to take them off before the second half. It said Mehdi Mehdavi-Kia kept his green band on throughout the game, which Iran and South Korea drew 1-1.
Fans from Iran unfurled a banner in the stands that read “Go To Hell Dictator,” and waved Iran’s national flags emblazoned with the plea “Free Iran.”
Blogs and Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been vital conduits for Iranians to inform the world about protests and violence.
The Web became more essential after the government barred foreign media Tuesday from leaving their offices to report on demonstrations on the streets of Tehran.
Mousavi condemned the government for blocking Web sites, saying the government did not tolerate the voice of the opposition.
The violence has left at least seven people dead, according to Iran’s state media, although videos and photos posted by people inside Iran show scenes of violence that have not been reported through official channels. The new media restrictions make it virtually impossible to independently verify much of the information, which includes dramatic images of street clashes and wounded demonstrators.
Much of the imagery has been posted anonymously. In other cases, those who have posted have declined to be identified due to fear of government retaliation, or cannot be reached due to government restrictions on the Internet and mobile phones.
The Revolutionary Guard, an elite military force answering to Khamenei, said through the state news service that its investigators have taken action against “deviant news sites” that encouraged public disturbances. The Guard is a separate military with enormous domestic influence and control of Iran’s most important defence programs. It is one of the key sources of power for the ruling establishment.
The statement alleged that dissident Web sites were backed by Canadian, U.S. and British interests, a frequent charge levied by hard-liners against the opposition.
“Legal action will be very strong and call on them to remove such materials,” it said.
Iran’s most senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, said widespread vote fraud had undermined the legitimacy of the ruling Islamic system and that “no sound mind” would accept the results.
“A government that is based on intervening in (people’s) vote has no political or religious legitimacy,” said Montazeri, who had once been set to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader until he was ousted because of criticisms of the revolution.
State media said Khamenei would deliver the sermon at Friday prayers, the most important religious address of the week. The supreme leader generally leads Friday prayers only two or three times a year.
Unlike past student-led demonstrations, Mousavi has the ability to press his case with Iran’s highest authorities and could gain powerful allies. Some influential clerics have expressed concern about possible election irregularities, and a fierce critic of Ahmadinejad, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, is part of the ruling establishment.
Iranian TV showed pictures of Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani’s daughter, speaking to hundreds of Mousavi supporters, carrying pictures of Khomeini and others.
The U.S.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said several dozen noted figures associated with the reform movement have been arrested, among them politicians, intellectuals, activists and journalists.
Analyst Saeed Leilaz, who is often quoted by Western media, was arrested Wednesday by plainclothes security officers at his home, said his wife, Sepehrnaz Panahi.
At least 10 Iranian journalists have been arrested since the election, Reporters Without Borders said, and a Web site run by former Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said the reformist had been arrested.
Prominent reformer Saeed Hajjarian has also been detained, Hajjarian’s wife, Vajiheh Masousi, told The Associated Press. Hajjarian is a close aide to former President Mohammad Khatami.
The main electoral authority has said it was prepared to conduct a limited recount of ballots at sites where candidates claim irregularities. The recount would be overseen by the Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 clerics and Islamic law experts close to Khamenei.
But Mousavi alleges the Guardian Council is not neutral and has already indicated it supports Ahmadinejad. Mousavi and the two other candidates who ran against Ahmadinejad are calling for an independent investigation.
His representative, reformist cleric Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, said after a meeting with the council Tuesday the number of votes in counted in 70 districts was higher than the population in those districts. He also said many polling stations were closed sooner than scheduled on election night, while people were still lining up.
On Tuesday, the government organized a large rally in Tehran to show it too can bring supporters into the streets. Speakers urged Iranians to accept the results showing Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a landslide.
The appeal for unity failed to calm passions, and a large column of Mousavi supporters marched peacefully in north Tehran, according to amateur video.
Security forces did not interfere, a witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.
Ahmadinejad, who has dismissed the unrest as little more than “passions after a soccer match,” attended a summit Tuesday in Russia that was delayed a day by the unrest. He returned to Iran and held a cabinet meeting, saying on state television Wednesday that people had voted for his “policies of justice.”