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G8 calls for immediate halt to Iran violence

Trieste — The Group of Eight leading powers on Friday called on Iran to immediately put a halt to post-election violence and urged Tehran to resolve the crisis "soon."

But the G8 foreign ministers pointedly did not condemn the Islamic regime and they refrained from calling into question the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s June 12 re-election.

"We want violence to stop immediately," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told a news conference after releasing a carefully-worded declaration from the world powers.

"We express our solidarity with the victims," Frattini said, but added that on the nuclear issue, "the door of dialogue must remain open."

G8 member Russia had warned against isolating Iran with a toughly-worded condemnation, arguing that it could trigger a backlash from Tehran that would jeopardise cooperation on the Islamic republic’s contentious nuclear programme.

"We are concerned about the aftermath of the Iranian presidential election," the foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States said in their statement.

"We fully respect the sovereignty of Iran. At the same time we deplore post-election violence which led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians and urge Iran to respect fundamental human rights."

The foreign ministers however served notice to Tehran to put an end to the crackdown on mass street protests, arrests of opposition members and severe restrictions on media coverage.

"The crisis should be settled soon through democratic dialogue and peaceful means," they said.

Meeting in the Adriatic city of Trieste, the G8 called on the Iranian government to "guarantee that the will of the Iranian people is reflected in the electoral process."

In Tehran, Iran’s electoral watchdog closed an investigation into charges of fraud on Friday, saying the body had found no "major irregularities."

But Iran’s defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi vowed to resist what he said he was huge pressure to end his campaign to challenge the election outcome.

Divergences appeared at the G8 meeting when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that isolating Iran was the "wrong approach" and that "no one wanted to condemn" Iran over the elections.

Moscow, which hosted Ahmadinejad at a summit a few days after his contested re-election, has said the election turmoil is an Iranian internal matter, although it has called for a peaceful resolution.

Italy and France were calling for a "firm" statement to send a clear message to Iran to halt the violence while keeping a door open to dialogue with Tehran.

Frattini had said late Thursday the G8 declaration would "include condemnation… but at the same time one that will recognise that electoral procedures are an Iranian question."

The G8 ministers were holding three days of talks in Trieste that have been overshadowed by the Iran crisis as they sought to renew efforts on Afghanistan and the Middle East peace process.

The world powers also strongly condemned North Korea for its nuclear test and long-range rocket launch and called for a halt to Jewish settlements on the West Bank to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects.

G8 ministers were to turn their attention to Afghanistan as the Taliban insurgency rages on, nearly eight years after the Islamic militia was ousted from Kabul.

Top diplomats from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan as well as officials from international organisations were to be present at the talks on stabilising Afghanistan.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to attend a meeting of the diplomatic quartet on the Middle East — the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations — in a bid to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian talks.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is recovering from an elbow injury, could not attend, and is represented by the State Department’s number three William Burns.

The foreign ministers’ meeting, which ends on Saturday, is laying the groundwork for the G8 summit in two weeks in L’Aquila, the central Italian city devastated by an earthquake in April.

Carole Landry/AFP/Expatica