Iran death toll mounts as leaders take aim at West

22nd June 2009, Comments 0 comments

World leaders have voiced mounting alarm over the unrest, which has jolted the pillars of the Islamic regime and raised concerns over the future of the oil-rich Shiite Muslim powerhouse.

Tehran -- At least 10 people were killed in the latest unrest to shake Tehran, state television said on Sunday, as Iranian leaders took aim at Western "meddling" in the post-election tumult that has triggered the worst crisis since the Islamic revolution.

The opposition stepped up its challenge to the country's Islamic rulers, with defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi firing off an unprecedented criticism of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after a day of deadly violence in Tehran.

State television said 10 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in Tehran on Saturday, blaming "terrorists" with firearms and explosives, bringing the overall toll reported by state media in a week of violence to at least 17.

Struggling to contain the massive street protests unleashed since the disputed June 12 election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office, Iranian leaders lashed out at Western nations, foreign media and the exiled opposition.

World leaders have voiced mounting alarm over the unrest, which has jolted the pillars of the Islamic regime and raised concerns over the future of the oil-rich Shiite Muslim powerhouse.

Witnesses said police and members of the Islamic volunteer Basij militia were patrolling flashpoint areas of Tehran but there did not appear to be any opposition demonstrations that have engulfed the capital every day for a week.

The foreign media has been barred from covering the demonstrations as part of tight new restrictions on their work.

Ahmadinejad bluntly told the United States and Britain to stop interfering after Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki accused London of plotting for the past two years to sabotage the election.

"By making hasty comments, you will not have a place in the circle of the Iranian nation's friends. Therefore, I recommend you to correct your interfering positions," Ahmadinejad said in a statement.

The BBC said its correspondent in Tehran had been ordered to leave within 24 hours while the authorities warned the British media of further action if the "interference" continues.

Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya also said its Tehran bureau had been ordered to remain closed indefinitely for "unfair reporting" of the election.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he rejected the charges that protesters were being "manipulated or motivated" by foreign countries and denounced what he said were Iran's effort to turn the election dispute into a "battle" with the outside world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- whose country is Tehran's major European trading partner -- called for a vote recount and a halt to violence against demonstrators while Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his country was "worried" by the loss of life.

In his latest comments on Saturday, US President Barack Obama, who has appealed for dialogue with Tehran after three decades of severed ties, urged Iran to stop "all violent and unjust actions."

"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching."

Iran's deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan blamed "thugs" from the exiled opposition group the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI) for the violence.

Mousavi, leading the massive wave of public opposition to an election he has called a "shameful fraud", on Saturday accused the country's rulers of "cheating" and warned of a dangerous path ahead.

He unleashed his broadside against Iran's all-powerful leader after police firing tear gas and water cannon clashed with thousands of protesters who defied an ultimatum from Khamenei for an end to their street rallies.

Witnesses gave accounts of brutal violence against protesters by the Basij on Saturday.

Mousavi, who was premier in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution, lashed out at Khamenei in an unprecedented challenge to the man who has ruled over Iran for 20 years.

In his first public appearance since the vote, Khameini on Friday ruled out any election fraud and warned that opposition leaders would be responsible for "blood, violence and chaos" if there was no end to protests.

But the moderate Mousavi, 67, reiterated his demand for a new election, saying that "cheating" threatened the very foundations of the republic.

He warned in a statement on his newspaper's website that if people were unable to defend their rights peacefully "there will be dangerous ways ahead."

"We are not against our sacred system and its legal structures. This structure protects our independence, freedom and the Islamic republic," he said.

"We are against deviation and lying and we seek to reform that, reform to return to the pure principles of the Islamic revolution."

Scores of reformists and political activists have been rounded up by the authorities since the violence exploded. The latest people arrested were two journalists who worked for a variety of reformist newspapers, a colleague said.

The head of Iran's security council, Abbas Mohtaj, on Saturday delivered a stern warning to Mousavi, whose supporters have been turning out wearing scarves and headbands in green, his campaign colour.

"Should you provoke and call for these illegal rallies you will be responsible for the consequences," he said.

Iran's electoral watchdog, the 12-member Guardians Council, said on Saturday it was ready to recount up to 10 percent of the ballot boxes from the election but the opposition is pushing for a full rerun.

Karim Sadjadpour of US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the "previously sacred red lines" were being challenged in Iran -- where 60 percent of the population were born after the revolution.

He said it was "unprecedented" for people to question the legitimacy of the institution of the supreme leader.


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