TEHRAN, Iran – Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main rival in the disputed presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, massed in competing rallies Tuesday as the country’s most senior Islamic cleric threw his weight behind opposition charges that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was rigged.
“No one in their right mind can believe” the official results from Friday’s contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime of handling Mousavi’s charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers “in the worst way possible.”
“A government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy,” he declared in comments on his official Web site. “I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to ‘sell their religion,’ and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God.”
As many as three more protesters were reported killed in clashes during Tuesday’s opposition demonstration in Vanak Square – adding to the eight who were confirmed killed in Monday’s protests.
Montazeri’s pointed public comments provided fresh evidence that a serious rift has opened at the top of Iran’s powerful religious hierarchy after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei endorsed the official election results and the harsh crackdown against the opposition.
A leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution who’s often feuded with Khamenei, Montazeri accused the government of attacking “the children of the people with astonishing violence” and “attempting a purge, arresting intellectuals, political opponents and scientifics.”
“He is questioning the legitimacy of the election and also questioning the legitimacy of (Khamenei’s) leadership, and this is the heart of the political battle in Iran,” said Mehdi Noorbaksh, an associate professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania. “This is very significant. This is huge support for Mousavi and the demonstrators on the reformists’ side.”
In an attempt to defuse the crisis, the 12-member Guardian Council, part of the ruling theocracy, announced that it would conduct a partial recount of the balloting, which the government said Ahmadinejad won with more than 24 million votes, to 13 million for Mousavi.