Tehran : An unknown number of people were injured during a night of violent protests in Tehran following the Iranian presidential election and there were reports Sunday of up to 100 people being arrested.
Thousands of opponents of re-elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to the streets of Tehran setting off a cycle of protests and violence after the Interior Ministry announced Ahmadinejad had been re-elected with more than 62 percent of votes.
During a hard crackdown by uniformed and plain-clothed police and other security forces, up to 100 supporters of main opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi were detained, according to BBC.
It said the brother of former president Mohammed Khatami was believed to be among those detained. The whereabouts of Moussavi were not known, although BBC said he was believed to be free.
Internet links meanwhile remained disrupted as relative calm returned to the capital Sunday. Already late Saturday SMS and mobile telephone networks – heavily used by opposition supporters in the run up to Fridays’s election – had been switched off.
Ahmadinejad’s overwhelming victory immediately sparked accusations of fraud from Moussavi, who said on his website that he would not “surrender to the manipulation”.
Soon after the final results were announced, violent clashes followed in several parts of the Iranian capital between riot police and demonstrators.
Tehran earlier witnessed protests during the student-led riots of 1999, but the present demonstrations were more confrontational and bold.
As the situation grew out of control, police used teargas against large numbers of protestors. There were reports of shooting near the Vanak square in Tehran, causing fear among residents in the crowded business district.
With communications disrupted, few details emerged of those injured in the clashes – but television reaching the outside world showed police making heavy use of sticks to beat demonstrators.
While police banned demonstrations and cancelled a press conference for foreign correspondents, the protesters – mainly Moussavi supporters – refused to back down.
As they hurled stones at the police and burnt tyres and garbage, the protesters shouted: “We want our voices back,” “Death to the dictator,” We don’t want the Taliban in Tehran.” Observers said the situation was explosive, as thick plumes of smoke rose over Tehran.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had earlier confirmed the election result and congratulated Ahmadinejad. “The elected president is the president of all Iranians and also his opponents should now support and help him,” he said in a message on state television.
“With their presence, the people turned the election into an epic day,” he said, referring to the 85-percent record turnout.
Under the constitution, Khamenei has final say on all state affairs, and could have potentially nullified the election if fraud had been proved.
Amid the ensuing violence, Ahmadinejad remained adamant that the election was free and democratic.
“Almost 40 million people attended the free election and passed a huge democratic test in front of the whole world and chose the path of awakening, pride and dignity,” he said in a televised speech after the results were declared.
“The people could have voted for the return to the past but they voted for the (way) ahead and the step towards the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, an influential Iranian clergy group said the counting process was fraudulent and called for the nullification of the election.
The Islamic Combatant Clergy Association (ICCA), which is close to former president Mohammad Khatami and supported Moussavi in Friday’s vote, said on its website that the election should be held again in a calmer, more logical and more just atmosphere.
The interior ministry, however, rejected all fraud charges. Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsoul said Ahmadinejad got 24.5 million votes and secured himself an absolute majority of 62 percent. Moussavi received 33.7 percent – 13.2 million – of the votes.