Iran General NewsIran council certifies Ahmadinejad victory

Iran council certifies Ahmadinejad victory

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ImageNew York Times: As the certification was announced, security and militia forces flooded the streets, and protesters who were already out marching down Tehran’s central avenue, Vali Asr, broke into furious chants. The marchers were quickly dispersed, but other Iranians, urged by opposition Web sites, went to their rooftops to yell “God is great!” in a show of defiance.

The New York Times

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: June 29, 2009

ImageAs the certification was announced, security and militia forces flooded the streets, and protesters who were already out marching down Tehran’s central avenue, Vali Asr, broke into furious chants. The marchers were quickly dispersed, but other Iranians, urged by opposition Web sites, went to their rooftops to yell “God is great!” in a show of defiance.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the Guardian Council’s secretary, sent a letter to the interior minister saying the panel had approved the election after a partial recount, according to state television.

“The Guardian Council, by reviewing the issues in many meetings and not considering the complaints and protest as valid, verifies the 10th presidential election,” Ayatollah Jannati wrote. The letter made scant mention of the sweeping public anger and accusations of fraud.

Earlier in the day, apparently in an attempt to create a semblance of fairness, state television said the Guardian Council had begun a random recount of 10 percent of the ballots in Tehran’s 22 electoral districts and in some provinces. The recount only aroused new skepticism, however, when the official news agency, IRNA, said that in one district, Mr. Ahmadinejad won even more votes than he had in the first count.

Opposition candidates had refused to participate in the review by sending representatives, saying that the election should be annulled because of widespread fraud.

“There is a serious crisis of confidence and danger between the state and a large section of the population,” said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “I think this anger and discontent right now might have been managed and controlled, it might not erupt again in the next two days or week. But it has not been resolved.”

“It is a divided country now,” said an Iranian political analyst who would speak only anonymously to avoid retribution. “We have two completely different world views. Ultimately, it is the competition between tradition and modernity.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Iranian government was facing an enormous credibility gap over the election, something the day’s events in Iran did little to address. “I don’t think that’s going to disappear by any finding of a limited review of a relatively small number of ballots,” she said.

Asked whether the United States would recognize Mr. Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president, she said only, “We’re going to take this a day at a time.”

The decision to certify the election seemed to reflect a growing split among the Iranian leadership about how to respond to a nation that has been left badly scarred after widespread protests, and a violent government crackdown that left at least 17 dead and hundreds more injured, hospitalized and jailed.

One group of officials under the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Mr. Ahmadinejad appeared to be trying to resolve the internal dispute by shifting some blame to foreign powers, particularly Britain, and by continuing reliance on the hammer-fisted policy of dispatching the police and militia members to beat protesters.

But there appear to be a growing number of officials and clerics who are deeply concerned about the unrest. On Monday, the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Parliament was scheduled to visit the holy city of Qum to meet with two grand ayatollahs. A day earlier it met with two former presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in an effort to ease the strains that have developed since the June 12 election. The speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, a former nuclear negotiator, has emerged as a powerful opponent of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

It is not clear how far those seeking some kind of reconciliation will be able to push their drive, as the current hard-line leadership of Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei has continued to lash out at the opposition and insist that Iran’s troubles are a result of meddling by foreign powers.

The nation’s intelligence chief charged that the protests were inspired by Western and “Zionist” forces, and Mr. Ahmadinejad called Monday for an investigation into the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young protester who became a symbol when a video of her dying moments in the streets was seen all over the world.

Witnesses said she was shot by a member of the Basij, the government militia. But now the government is pressing an account that foreigners killed her to undermine its credibility.

Political analysts inside and outside the country doubted that the millions who participated in the rallies would believe the government’s version. But there are millions more citizens who may, because they receive virtually all of their information from state media — primarily television — and because of Iran’s history of exploitation by the West.

On Sunday, the authorities arrested nine Iranian staff members of the British Embassy in Tehran, and while five had been released Monday, four remained in custody for what the intelligence service said were efforts to incite and organize the protests.

But as the arrests ratcheted tensions up between Iran and the European Union, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman tried to ease back on Monday, however slightly. “Reduction of ties is not on our agenda with any European country, including Britain,” the spokesman, Hassan Qashqavi, said.

Iran’s economy, even before the electoral crisis, was suffering from the drop in oil prices, with inflation of at least 15 percent — and by some estimates 25 percent — and damaging unemployment. On Sunday, the government announced that it had to end all subsidies for gasoline used by private vehicles, a decision that was expected, but given the timing, suggested serious strains to the state budget.

Antagonizing the European Union, Iran’s largest trading partner, could do further damage. There was already some indication that some of Iran’s most powerful groups, close to the supreme leader, were growing anxious over the state of the nation.

European security experts, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, confirmed reports in Italian and Turkish newspapers that large sums of money had been sent to havens outside the country from banks controlled by the Revolutionary Guards.

There was another lesson from Sunday that challenged the government’s belief that it can return to a state of normalcy by crushing protests and talking about recounts without also offering hope of an objective review.

The Iranian calendar is filled with a large number of national, religious and cultural memorials, holidays and observances. On Sunday, one memorial turned into a protest by thousands of people, forcing a recognition that without shutting down civil life for a vast majority of Iranians, there would be no way to prevent large crowds from gathering.

“I think the memorials and the various anniversary dates, particularly for the most recent martyrs, present the greatest of threats to the regime of gatherings that could gather steam and momentum,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “I expect authorities will continue to do all they can to prevent people from gathering in large numbers in such occasions.”

Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo.

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