Rumors Swirl Of New Tehran Protests

Opposition Leader

In this image issued by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, June 24, 2009 traffic is seen on a street in Tehran, Iran on June 23, 2009. (AP Photo/ISNA)

(CBS/AP) Iran's supreme leader said Wednesday that the government would not give in to pressure over the disputed presidential election, effectively closing the door to compromise with the opposition.

Reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's official Web site said nonetheless that a protest was planned outside Iran's parliament Wednesday afternoon. It distanced him at the same time, calling the demonstration independent and saying it had not been organized by Mousavi.

The mixed messages reflected the dilemma facing the unlikely opposition leader, a longtime supporter of Iran's government thrust to the head of a pro-democracy protest movement.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered protests to end, leaving Mousavi with the choice of restraining followers or continuing to directly challenge the country's ultimate authority despite threats of escalating force.

Unconfirmed reports on social networking site Twitter said that police were clashing with demonstrators in Baharestan Square, near the parliament building. Iran's severe restrictions on Western journalists make confirming those reports very difficult.

Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, said on one of his Web sites that the government crackdown on protests was "as if martial law has been imposed in the streets."

Rahnavard, who campaigned beside her husband, said that opposition supporters had a constitutional right to protest. She also called for the release of all activists and others arrested at protests.

Mousavi, a former prime minister, saw his campaign transform into a protest movement after the government declared that hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the overwhelming winner of the June 12 election.

Mousavi said the result was fraudulent and Western analysts who have examined available data on the vote said there were indications of manipulation.

His supporters flooded the streets of Tehran and other cities after the vote, massing by the hundreds of thousands in protests larger than any since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Security forces initially stood by and permitted the demonstrations.

Khamenei ordered an end to protests on Friday and security forces beat protesters and fired tear gas and water cannons at rallies the next day. At least 10 protesters were shot, according to official tallies.

An unconfirmed report stated that the country's powerful, 86-member Assembly of Experts - headed by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - is split in its support for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. However, neither is expected to lose their positions.

Khamenei's comments come on the heels of a conservative candidate withdrawing his complaints about voting fraud for the sake of the country, state television reported.

The announcement by Mohsen Rezaie, a former commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, moved the cleric-led government one step closer to a final declaration of victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. State TV reported that Ahmadinejad would be sworn in sometime between July 26 and Aug. 19.

State media have said that at least 17 people have been killed in post-election unrest. Amateur footage of a 27-year-old woman bleeding to death from a gunshot on a Tehran street unleashed outrage at home and abroad.

In weighing the direction of the protests, Mousavi appeared to be trying a compromise approach: He has made no public appearances since Thursday but he has issued strongly worded statements calling for supporters to continue demonstrations.

The protest set for Wednesday could set the stage for new confrontation.

"On the current situation, I was insisting and will insist on implementation of the law. That means, we will not go one step beyond the law," Khamenei said on state television. "For sure, neither the system nor the people will give in to pressures at any price." He used language that indicated he was referring to domestic pressures.

He told opposition supporters to halt their protests and blamed the U.S., Britain and other foreign powers for instigating unrest.

Iran also said that it was considering downgrading ties with Britain, which it has accused of spying and fomenting days of unprecedented street protests over the vote.

The government accused Britain of using spies to foment the unprecedented street protests and Iran expelled two British diplomats Tuesday. Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that two Iranian diplomats were being sent home in retaliation.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was asked about the option of reducing diplomatic relations with London after a Cabinet meeting in Tehran.

"We are studying it," Mottaki said, according to state television.

On Tuesday, President Obama hardened his rhetoric on the crackdown, saying the world was "appalled and outraged".

"I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering in Iran's affairs," Mr. Obama said. "But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society."

Mr. Obama had been avoiding harsh condemnation of Iran's government, which often labels domestic unrest as the work of foreign agents.

Iran expelled two diplomats from Britain - a nation it bitterly accuses of meddling and spying - and Britain in turn sent two Iranian envoys home. There was no immediate word Wednesday on any Iranian reaction to the speech by Mr. Obama, who had been trying to warm relations with the Islamic Republic.

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