TEHRAN – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was inaugurated Monday by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, during a sober ceremony notable for the absence of several prominent figures linked to the opposition.
After the ceremony, witnesses reported unrest in central Tehran, as security forces deployed to prevent government opponents from demonstrating against Ahmadinejad’s initiation of a second four-year term following a disputed election. Riot police and other security elements turned out in force in main squares and streets, where groups of protesters attempted to gather, and motorists honked their car horns in a show of opposition, witnesses said.
The semiofficial Fars News Agency reported that opposition presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi showed up at a demonstration against the inauguration, joining about 100 supporters at an intersection before riot police broke up the gathering. Iranian state television charged that Karroubi, 71, a Shiite Muslim cleric and former parliamentary speaker, was “egging on the hooligans.”
Neither Karroubi nor Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition presidential candidate, attended the ceremony for Ahmadinejad. Mousavi, 67, a former prime minister, continues to dispute the June 12 election results that showed him losing to Ahmadinejad in a landslide. Other senior figures who were not present included two influential Shiite clerics and former presidents: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. Rafsanjani, who heads two top supervisory bodies in the Iranian governing system, favors the opposition and has not congratulated Ahmadinejad on his second term. Khatami, who according to protocol should have been there as Ahmadinejad’s direct predecessor, sides with reformers opposed to Ahmadinejad.
Rafsanjani’s absence was most notable. As head of the Assembly of Experts, an 86-member clerical council that has the power to change the supreme leader, and secretary of the Expediency Council, which referees in conflicts between high institutions, Rafsanjani is usually present at such important public meetings.
The ceremony was the religious portion of Ahmadinejad’s swearing-in. He will take the oath of office again on Wednesday before the Iranian parliament.