Khamenei backs Ahmadinejad, calls for end to protests


Tehran : Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Friday threw his weight behind re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and called for an end to protests challenging the results of the June 12 polls.

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In his first public remarks since last week’s presidential election, the cleric insisted that no cheating had taken place and issued a stern warning to protestors that illegal initiatives were not acceptable.

“Political decisions are made at the ballot box, not in the streets,” Khamenei said.

“Street protest is not acceptable. This is a challenge to democracy,” Khamenei said.

He told protestors, who had been turning out in their tens of thousands since Saturday to protest the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory, that they were “miscalculating” if they thought they could exert pressure for change.

It was wrong to think that street protests gave the opposition a lever to exert pressure, the cleric said, indicating that the opposition was responsible for all future violence. At the same time he called on all sides to refrain from violence.

Khamenei made it clear that he regarded the elections as legitimate. “The people have chosen who they want as president,” he said. As Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei has the final say on all political decisions in the Islamic republic.

“Some supporters of candidates should know that the Islamic republic does not cheat,” Khamenei said.

Khamenei ruled out any cheating in the June 12 election, especially as there “was a difference of 11 million votes”.

“How can 11 million votes be changed?” Khamenei asked. While admitting that there was small room for doubt, he insisted the election process had been transparent and fair, all challenges should be made through legal means. Indicating his opposition to protest measures, he stressed that he would not accept any “illegal initiatives”.

The supreme leader admitted that his views were closer to Ahmadinejad’s on foreign and social policies than to the opposition, a departure from the traditional view of his role, which is expected to be above political positions.

Speaking at Tehran university, the traditional venue for the prayers, Khamenei deemed the elections a “political earthquake”. Not since the Islamic revolution of 1979 had turnout been that high. Iran’s people had proven that a religious democracy was a valid political “third avenue”.

All four candidates supported the state, opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi was a loyal representative who had cooperated with him well for years, the cleric said.

He accused “enemies” of Iran of attempts to undermine the people’s trust in the government, saying the West was responsible for the accusations of vote rigging in the first place.

Western powers had pulled off their friendly masks and showed their true enmity towards Iran, the cleric said, accusing the British government of being the “most evil”.

No protest rallies are planned Friday, but another mass protest was announced for Saturday. On Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Moussavi’s supporters took to the streets again, demanding a re-run of the elections.

The government organised additional buses to have as many people as possible to listen to Khamenei’s sermon, the BBC reported. In contrast to bans on reporting on the opposition rallies, Iranian state television broadcast Friday’s speech live.

Television images showed tens of thousands gathered at the university and in central Tehran to listen to the sermon, which was also attended by Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile Iran’s Guardian Council, which is in charge of approving the election process, invited Moussavi and two other presidential candidates, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, to participate in a review of the election results Saturday.

Khamenei said he supported the review, as it was important to ensure the credibility of future elections. Candidates could pursue legal means to challenge the results, but the supreme leader warned them to watch their remarks, as they could have dangerous consequences and radicalise society.

The candidates claimed 646 irregularities in the June 12 polls, which Ahmadinejad won in a landslide 63-percent victory, according to official results.

Protestors Thursday wore black to mourn those killed in the demonstrations, and green, the colour chosen by Moussavi as a symbol of change, in what are probably the biggest mass protests in the Islamic republic’s 30-year history.

According to the opposition People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, a group which was recently removed from a European Union terrorism blacklist, 43 people have been killed in the protests, 30 of them in Tehran.

There is no independent confirmation of those figures; previous reports spoke of at least eight people killed in clashes with security forces.

Khamenei’s words hinted at heavy crackdowns, should protests continue.