Wednesday, June 17, 2009

US Sees Both Iran Rivals As Hostile

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
05:05 Mecca time, 02:05 GMT

US sees both Iran rivals as hostile

Violent protests have rocked Tehran after last week's disputed election

The US president has played down differences between Iran's two main presidential election rivals, saying both were hostile towards the US.

Barack Obama said on Tuesday that he would continue his policy of "tough diplomacy" towards Tehran, as protests in support of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and his rival Mir Hossein Mousavi, continued.

"It's important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised," Obama told CNBC news.

"Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighbourhood and has been pursuing nuclear weapons," Obama said.

Tens of thousands of anti- and pro-government demonstrators have gathered in Tehran as tensions deepened after Ahmadinejad was declared the runaway winner of presidential polls on Friday.

Obama also said he believed that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, understood that there were deep concerns in Iran about the disputed poll, as the biggest opposition protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution escalated.

Despite Obama's vow not to meddle in Iran's internal affairs, the US government said it had asked mobile social networking site Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance.

The site has been used as a communication tool by protesters, especially since the Iranian government shut down many websites, cell phones and newspapers.

Twitter delayed Monday's scheduled maintenance, which would have taken place during daylight hours in Iran, and rescheduled it for Tuesday.

"They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to," a US state department official said on condition of anonymity.

The firm however, told Al Jazeera that US government pressure had not contributed significantly to its decision to delay the temporary shutdown.

"The decision to alter the maintenance schedule wasn't affected by any one voice. Twitter simply understood that the reliability of the platform has become critical in people's lives across the globe," it said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
22:20 Mecca time, 19:20 GMT

Mousavi supporters march in Iran

Mousavi urged those who took part in Wednesday's protests to stage peaceful demonstrations

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the politician at the centre of Iran's opposition movement, has called for a day of protest and mourning in solidarity with those killed or hurt as tensions over the presidential election results show no sign of ebbing.

Mousavi has urged his supporters to stage peaceful demonstrations or gather in mosques on Thursday.

Ahmadinejad, the conservative incumbent president, was officially declared winner of Friday's election by a margin of two-to-one over Mousavi, a moderate who was the main challenger.

"In the course of the past days and as a consequence of illegal and violent encounters with [people protesting] against the outcome of the presidential election, a number of our countrymen were wounded or martyred," Mousavi said on his website on Wednesday.

"I ask the people to express their solidarity with the families ... by coming together in mosques or taking part in peaceful demonstrations."

Protest in Tehran

Tens of thousands of Mousavi supporters staged a protest in Tehran for the fifth straight day on Wednesday, despite the authorities' ban on opposition gatherings.

They marched towards the Vali Asr square, protesting against what they say was a rigged election.

Many were wearing green, the colour of Mousavi's campaign, but Al Jazeera's Alireza Ronaghi, reporting from Tehran, said he had spotted a new trend in their outfits.

"I saw that it was becoming a prevalent trend to wear black ribbons as well, which is a sign of mourning in Iran, a sign of sympathy for the victims who have died in protests the days before," he said.

Media crackdown

Political protesters apart, a dozen Iranian journalists and bloggers have been arrested in the aftermath of the contested presidential election, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The government has put restrictions on foreign media coverage in Iran after the election, and authorities accused some foreign media of being the "mouthpiece of rioters".

"Some countries, in an uncalculated, hasty and rude reaction towards the illegal gatherings, have supported them contrary to democratic principles and regulations and have become the mouthpiece of the rioters' movement", the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Several internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been blocked and the Revolutionary Guard, an elite military force, warned the country's online media users they will face legal action if their uploads "creates tensions".

Al Jazeera's correspondent said the move against websites and blogging by the Guard was beyond their remit.

"Their move to crack down on websites and blogs is against their constitutional rights, but they see things spreading out of hand, so they feel it necessary to intervene at this point," Ronaghi said.

"It is obvious that the Revolutionary Guard does not see itself as a pure military organisation.

"They have been telling the media and activists that the Revolutionary Guard was founded as a political and military foundation of the Islamic Republic, so they see it as appropriate to enter politics whenever they deem fit."

Within the country, mobile phone text services have been down since the election

Violence on tape

Despite these measures, violent scenes of police beating Mousavi supporters taken on mobile phones have been broadcast on news bulletins across the world.

At least seven people have been killed in recent clashes between the authorities and the opposition movement, according to state media reports, while hundreds more are thought to have been injured.

Among those arrested by the authorities since the protests against the presidential election results began are several reformists.

Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist, was arrested at his home on Wednesday morning, Issa Saharkhiz, a colleague, told the AFP news agency.

Saeed Laylaz, a political and economic analyst, was also arrested at his home by four officials, a family member said.

Jalaipour and Laylaz are also prominent journalists.

The Guardian Council, Iran's most senior legislative body, said it could order a partial vote recount, provided it finds irregularities.

The council ruled out annulling the disputed poll, the main demand of the opposition.

The foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents US interests in Tehran, on Wednesday to protest at "interventionist" US statements on Iran's election.

President Barack Obama told CNBC there appeared to be little difference in policy between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi.

"Either way we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States," he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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