TEHRAN, Iran – Opposition groups called for protesters to prepare for a new round of street demonstrations Wednesday to coincide with the inauguration ceremony for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The appeals – carried on reformist Web sites and blogs – showed a willingness by protesters to confront the massive security operation expected outside parliament and other areas of the capital Tehran during the swearing in formalities.
Authorities have increasingly dispatched waves of riot police in pre-emptive moves before high-profile events linked to the disputed June 12 elections and its violent aftermath, such as memorials for victims of the unrest.
There were scattered clashes Monday in Tehran after a ceremony where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei formally endorsed Ahmadinejad’s second term.
Another cause for opposition anger is a mass trial scheduled to resume Thursday for more than 100 people, including many prominent reformist activists and political figures. They are accused of encouraging the protests and challenging the Islamic system.
The trial has brought widespread denunciations from reformists and some powerful conservatives – adding to the rifts within Iran’s leadership over its handling of the most serious domestic upheaval since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In a possible move to address the discord, Iranian authorities said Tuesday they would bring charges against officials – including security forces and judicial members – accused of abusing civilians during the unrest.
The report by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency gave no further details on possible action, but it comes after calls for trials for those suspected of killing of torturing protesters.
In the same vein, Iran’s police chief, Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told state TV late Tuesday that he has fired the head of a detention facility on Tehran’s southern outskirts which was ordered closed by Khamenei late last month.
The head of Kahrizak prison was fired because of “mismanagement,” Moghaddam said. Three guards at the facility were detained on charges of mistreating prisoners, he added without giving further details.
Human rights groups have identified at least three protesters they say died after being detained at Kahrizak, though the reports could not be independently confirmed. Kahrizak appeared to have little role as a detention centre before the latest unrest, but many of the detainees are believed to have spent time there.
At least 30 people have died in the unrest that followed the vote, according to figures from a parliamentary investigation. Hundreds have been detained. Human rights groups believe the death toll is likely far higher.
Ahmadinejad’s main conservative election challenger Mohsen Rezaei – who served as commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards – has led the demands for high-level probes into abuses. On Tuesday, he warned that Iran could be moving toward a “religious dictatorship” if the ruling establishment tried to cling to power at all costs, according to a speech posted on reformist Web sites.
The son of Rezaei’s top aide, Abdolhossein Rouhalamini, died in detention. He was arrested during a July 9 protest and taken to a hospital two weeks later where he died within hours. Reformist Web sites said his jaw was broken when his father received his body.
Iran’s most senior dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, also compared the mass trial and several public confessions to the tactics of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and other authoritarian rulers.
“Why they do such things that the people compare their courts to Stalin’s, Saddam’s and other dictators’ courts and trials?” said Montazeri in a statement posted on his Web site.
He said Islamic teachings say confessions in jail “have no religious or legal validity.”
Several pro-reform blogs and Web sites, including some linked to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, appealed for demonstrators to gather in front of parliament, where Ahmadinejad is to be officially sworn in for a second, four-year term. They also called for protests at main markets in other cities around Iran.
Mousavi and his backers alleged widespread vote rigging and other fraud in Ahmadinejad’s landslide re-election. Many protesters have now broadened their anger toward the wider Islamic leadership, which they claim has trampled rights by supporting the election results and launching blanket crackdowns on dissenters.
But one of the pro-reform candidates, Mahdi Karroubi, insisted he still backs Iran’s Islamic system despite claims that Ahmadinejad’s re-election does not reflect the will of the nation.
“The truth is that the majority of people don’t accept the methods, language and style of governing of Mr. Ahmedinejad. … We do not consider this government to be legitimate,” Karroubi was quoted by the Spanish newspaper El Pais in an interview published Tuesday.
He expressed worry about the “killings and the disturbances” during the street protests, but vowed to maintain pressure on Ahmadinejad.
“We are going to continue protesting,” he was quoted as saying. “We are never going to co-operate with this government. We don’t want to harm it but we are going to criticize its actions. We are not going to help it in any way.”
Many of Tuesday’s protest appeals included instructions to shift the rallies to main squares if the security presence is too strong at the first sites.
They called for key opposition figures – including Mousavi and Karroubi – to join the marches. They gave no immediate statements on plans to attend.