Police block protests as Iran confirms election results

WASHINGTON — The Iranian government's electoral watchdog Monday confirmed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's landslide victory in the disputed June 12 presidential election after police wielding batons and cables prevented more than a thousand demonstrators from organizing a rally to protest the results.

The announcement effectively ended any possibility that regime would grant demands for a new vote by second-place finisher Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The decision of the 12-member Guardian Council, whose chairman endorsed Ahmadinejad, found no evidence in a random recount of 10 percent of the 40 million ballots cast to sustain charges of massive fraud, state television said.

"The Guardian Council, after studying the issues in numerous sessions, dismisses all the complaints received and approves the accuracy of the 10th presidential election," the chairman, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, was quoted as saying in a letter to the interior minister.

"The regime committed suicide by announcing Ahmadinejad the winner," countered a pro-reform journalist, on condition that he remained unidentified to avoid retribution. "Ahmadinejad has no legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of Iranians and he won't be able to rule a country with clubs and rifles for four years."

The official results gave Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who's denied the Holocaust and called for Israel's destruction, more than 63 percent of the vote.

In a conciliatory move, the council announced that it would give Mousavi a second five-day extension of the deadline in which to back up his charges that the election was stolen.

Before the announcement, riot police and the Basij, a pro-government militia, deployed in Tehran squares, parks and streets to prevent protests.

Even so, more than a thousand opposition protesters tried to form a human chain by silently linking hands along Vali Asr Street, the capital's longest thoroughfare. They were dispersed by riot police flailing batons and heavy electrical cables, witnesses said.


A local resident, who requested anonymity to avoid retribution, said authorities also cut cellular phone service and electricity in the area.

After the Guardian Council's decision was announced on the 10 p.m. television news, opposition rallying cries of "Allahu Akbar" — "God is Great" — and "Down with the Dictator" echoed across Tehran's rooftops.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that the Guardian Council's limited recount wouldn't dispel a widespread belief that the election was fixed.

"Obviously, they have a huge credibility gap with their own people as to the election process," she said.

Clinton sidestepped a question about whether the U.S. recognized Ahmadinejad's victory, saying, "We're going to take this a day at a time. We're going to watch and carefully assess what we see happening."

In the latest indication that the regime intends to deal harshly with those arrested since the protests erupted June 13, state media reported the formation of a special team to investigate "the cases of detainees."

The three-member team will "determine the fate of detainees" and will report its findings to the head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmoud Hashmei Shahroudi, it said.

The detainees are said to include pro-reformist politicians, student activists, more than two dozen journalists, intellectuals as well as ordinary people who joined the massive street marches.

The crisis has thrust into the open a power struggle within Iran's ruling conservative elite. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lined up behind Ahmadinejad and his supporters in the security services, while politicians regarded as more willing to loosen internal controls have backed Mousavi.

The regime has sought to blame the U.S., European powers and Israel for fomenting the violence that has claimed the lives of at least 17 protesters and eight Basij militiamen, and left unknown numbers of people injured.

State television reported on Monday that authorities had released five of nine Iranian employees of the British Embassy whom the regime had accused of involvement in directing the protests.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Monday for the release of the four remaining detainees, calling Iran's action "unacceptable, unjustified and without foundation."

The regime also pressed efforts aimed at persuading Iranians that security forces weren't responsible for the killing of protesters.

State media reported that Ahmadinejad asked the judiciary to investigate the "suspicious" killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year-old woman who became an opposition icon after her shooting death during a June 20 demonstration was captured on a video posted on the Internet.

Witnesses blamed her death on a Basij member; Iranian officials have accused the CIA and the British Broadcasting Corp. of arranging the shooting.

(The McClatchy special correspondent's name is being withheld for reasons of personal security. Landay reported from Washington.)


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