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West articulates rising anger with Iran

Paris — Western leaders expressed rising anger Sunday at Tehran’s crackdown on protesters disputing Iranian election results and on foreign journalists covering the story.

Following a call from Germany for a full presidential vote recount, French President Nicolas Sarkozy articulated dismay at the reaction of Iranian authorities to a crisis that has already claimed 17 lives.

"The attitude of the Tehran authorities in the face of the legitimate desire for truth of a large part of the Iranian population is inexcusable," Sarkozy said, highlighting the Iranian government’s "pariah" status.

Tehran, already isolated due to ambiguous nuclear ambitions, was now "depriving its people of their most basic democratic rights", he said.

"Repression and violence against peaceful demonstrators must stop because there is no justification for it," he added.

Iranian state television reported that at least 10 people died and more than 100 were wounded in Tehran during mass demonstrations on Saturday in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, in addition to seven killed since the demonstrations began last week.

But as Iran deported or detained special correspondents for flagship media outlets the BBC and Newsweek, and Britain rejected accusations of meddling behind the scenes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a vote recount.

"Germany stands by the people in Iran who want to exercise their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," Merkel said of the reaction to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being declared the winner of June 12 polls.

The massive street protests — which have spread abroad but subsided in Tehran Sunday amid heavy patrols by security forces — have posed the greatest challenge to the Islamic region since the 1979 revolution.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned the death toll "will raise the level of concern among Iranians and around the world."

A new analysis of voting figures by independent British think tank Chatham House found "irregularities" in the turnout and "highly implausible" swings to Ahmadinejad.

US President Barack Obama had already toughened his stance, calling on Iranian authorities to stop "violent and unjust actions against its own people."

But Democrats on Sunday urged Obama to keep US "fingerprints" off unfolding events amid Republican pressure for bolder US action.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the "incredible acts of courage" by demonstrators, Iran’s electoral watchdog expressed a readiness to "randomly" recount up to 10 percent of ballot boxes.

Mousavi wants a new election, but Ahmadinejad bluntly told the United States and Britain to "stop interfering" after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki accused London of plotting to sabotage the election.

Miliband rejected the accusations, but Iran ordered the BBC’s correspondent in Tehran to leave the country within 24 hours, while a Canadian journalikst working for Newsweek was detained.

Italy, which is preparing to host a Group of Eight summit next month, also expressed concern. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called on Iran to "check the will expressed by the people" in a statement published by his office.

Frattini said Rome "respects Iran, its sovereignty and recognises its important role in the region," referring to the Afghanistan conflict.

Later Sunday, Spain too underlined its solidarity with European partners.

And as European embassies in Tehran addressed concerted email calls for them to offer refuge to protesters, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said all 27 EU ‘charge d’affaires’ diplomats had been summoned in Tehran.

However, Venezuela’s leftist leader Hugo Chavez rushed to Iran’s defence, urging nations to respect Ahmadinejad’s "triumph".

"We call on the world to respect Iran because there are attempts to undermine the strength of the Iranian revolution," Chavez said in his weekly radio and television address.

"Ahmadinejad’s triumph was a triumph all the way. They are trying to stain Ahmadinejad’s triumph and through that weaken the government and the Islamic revolution. I know they will not succeed," Chavez said.