TEHRAN - Tehran sees Iran’s worst street violence in a decade yesterday, after demonstrations contesting President Ahmadinejad’s landslide electoral victory flare up for a second day. Ahmadinejad is dismissing claims of election irregularities, while his main opposition, reformist Mousavi, calls on supporters to continue the protest peacefully.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday defended his disputed re-election, as security forces cracked down on opposition protestors in Tehran after fresh violence erupted.
Police said they rounded up a total of 170 people over the massive post-election protests and street riots that erupted in the Iranian capital after Ahmadinejad's defeated challengers complained of fraud and vote-rigging.
Analysts have warned that the dramatic events could pose a risk to the future of the Shiite-dominated country, which has been under the control of powerful clerics since the Islamic revolution three decades ago.
But Ahmadinejad dismissed criticism of the election, saying at a press conference the huge turnout was a blow to the "oppressive system ruling the world," a reference to Iran's arch-foe the United States, according to an account by Agence France-Presse.
He said his margin of victory over his main rival, moderate ex-premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, was so wide it could not be questioned and said the election was like a "football match" and the loser should just "let it go."
Unprecedented rioting: But clashes flared again yesterday, a day after thousands of angry opposition supporters took to the streets over the election result, triggering rioting on a scale not seen in Iran for a decade.
In one street, police fired into the air to break up a demonstration, while on another, about 200 Mousavi supporters shouting "Death to the dictator" lobbed stones at police who fired back with tear gas. Among those arrested by police were around 15 reformist leaders and supporters of Ahmadinejad's defeated rivals, who complained vote rigging in the most hotly-contested presidential election in the Islamic republic.
Tehran's deputy police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, said a total of 170 people had been arrested, including "masterminds" of the rioting, and warned that the security forces would deal "firmly" with the protests.
World governments have so far reacted cautiously, while voicing concern about the vote-rigging allegations and the election violence. The European Union has expressed concern over how Iran's presidential elections have been conducted, and France's foreign minister yesterday condemned the police response to street protests in Tehran. The 27-nation EU said it was "concerned about alleged irregularities" during Friday's vote and post election violence that erupted after the release of results Saturday, according to an account by The Associated Press.
France is "highly concerned" by the crackdown on Iranian protesters in the wake of Ahmadinejad's disputed election landslide, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said yesterday. "We are highly concerned because there was the beginning of a dialogue" between Iran's rival political factions, Kouchner said. "I am sorry that instead of openness there has been a somewhat brutal reaction," he warned.
Official results gave Ahmadinejad 63 percent of the vote, crushing his closest rival Mousavi who gained just 34 percent. Meanwhile, Mousavi urged his supporters yesterday to continue the "civil and legal opposition throughout the country peacefully and in a non-confrontational manner" in a statement on his election campaign website Ghalam News.