Iran Refuses To Annul Vote, Says There Was ‘No Major Fraud’


iranIran’s rulers stiffened their stance against protesters today firmly rejecting demands to annul the election over fraud allegations, setting up a special court for detained demonstrators, and keeping troops in riot gear on the streets to break up any gatherings. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has been out of sight in recent days and there were no reports of violent clashes today, possibly a measure of the effectiveness of the crackdown. However, protesters came up with new techniques, such as turning on the lights in their cars at certain hours of the day and honking their horns or holding up posters.

“People are calmly protesting, more symbolically than with their voices,” a Tehran resident said in a telephone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retribution.

In recent days, members of the elite Revolutionary Guard, the Basij militia and other security forces in riot gear have been heavily deployed across Tehran, preventing any gatherings and ordering people to keep moving. A protest of some 200 people Monday was quickly broken up with tear gas and shots in the air, while helicopters hovered overhead.

Mousavi claims he was the true winner of the June 12 election, but the electoral commission declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by a landslide.

Another opposition figure, reformist presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi, called for a day of mourning for the at least 17 people killed in protests since the election.

Across the world, governments and diplomats were increasingly lining up on opposite sides in the Iranian showdown, the strongest challenge to the rule of Islamic clerics in 30 years.

In a boost for the embattled regime, Russia said today that it respects the declared election result. But France summoned Iran’s ambassador to express concern about what it called “brutal repression” of protesters in Tehran.

The U.S. and many European countries have refrained from challenging the election outcome directly, but have issued increasingly stern warnings against continuing violence meted out to demonstrators. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has demanded an immediate end to “arrests, threats and use of force.”

However, the Iranian regime appeared determined to crush the post-election protesters, rather than compromise.

Mousavi has charged massive vote fraud and insisted he is the true winner. However, Iran’s top electoral body, Guardian Council, found “no major fraud or breach in the election,” a spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, was quoted by Press TV as saying today. “Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place.”

The 12-member council has the authority to annul or validate the election. On Monday, it acknowledged in a rare step that it found voting irregularities in 50 of 170 districts, including vote counts that exceeded the number of eligible voters. Still, it said the discrepancies, involving some 3 million votes, were not widespread enough to affect the outcome.

Iran has 46.2 million eligible voters, one-third of them under 30. The final tally was 62.6 percent of the vote for Ahmadinejad and 33.75 percent for Mousavi, a landslide victory in a race that was perceived to be much closer. The huge margin went against the expectation that the record 85 percent turnout would boost Mousavi.

In another sign of the regime’s crackdown, Ebrahim Raisi, a top judicial official, confirmed today that a special court has been set up to deal with detained protesters.

“Elements of riots must be dealt with to set an example. The judiciary will do that,” he was quoted as saying by the state-run radio, which gave no further details. The judiciary is controlled by Iran’s ruling clerics.

Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, won crucial backing from Russia on Tuesday, with the Foreign Ministry in Moscow saying it respects the declared election result. In a statement on its Web site, the ministry said that disputes about the vote “should be settled in strict compliance with Iran’s Constitution and law” and are “exclusively an internal matter.”

Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has longtime political and economic ties with Iran where it is helping build a nuclear power plan at Bushehr. In his only trip abroad since the vote, Ahmadinejad traveled to Russia last week for a conference where he was seen prominently shaking hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Many Western democracies, including the U.S., have criticized Iran’s campaign to crush dissent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Iran to recount the votes, but stopped short of alleging electoral fraud. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been outspoken in his criticism of Iran’s response to the demonstrations, but said doors must remain open to continue talks on the country’s nuclear program.

Two prominent Iranian opposition figures took their case to Europe on Tuesday.

Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi asked EU officials in Brussels not to negotiate or hold meetings with Iranian leaders until the crackdown stops.

In Rome, Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf held a news conference, saying he had been asked by Mousavi’s aides to spread the word on what is happening in Iran. Makhmalbaf said that even if Ahmadinejad manages to govern for the next four years, “he will not have one day of quietness.” He said protesters would resort to general strikes and what he called civil resistance.

Iranian leaders have accused the West of meddling in its affairs. Press TV said Tuesday that despite such complaints, the government refused to grant a permit for a protest by university students outside the British embassy in Tehran.

Opposition protests have become smaller, after a huge opposition rally a week ago, though demonstrators have been more willing to confront Iranian troops.

On Monday, Tehran riot police fired tear gas and live bullets to break up about 200 protesters paying tribute to those killed in the protests, including a young women, Neda Agha Soltan, whose apparent shooting death was captured on video and circulated worldwide. Witnesses said helicopters hovered overhead.

A number of journalists have been detained since the protests began, though there have been conflicting accounts. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders put the figure of reporters detained at 34.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 13 were still in custody, including Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari.

The Iranian government must release all journalists and halt “unreasonable and arbitrary measures that are restricting the flow of information,” the committee said. “Detaining journalists for reporting news and commentary indicates the government has something to hide.”

{World News Daily/ Newscenter}