June 21, 2009 in Nation/World

Eerie calm in Tehran as death toll jumps to 17

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi set fire to a barricade as they hurl stones during a protest in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

TEHRAN, Iran — An eerie calm settled over the streets of Tehran Sunday as state media reported at least 10 more deaths in post-election unrest and said authorities arrested the daughter and four other relatives of ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s most powerful men.

The reports brought the official death toll for a week of boisterous confrontations to at least 17. State television inside Iran said 10 were killed and 100 injured in clashes Saturday between demonstrators contesting the result of the June 12 election and black-clad police wielding truncheons, tear gas and water cannons.

Police and members of Iran’s Basij militia took up positions Sunday afternoon on major streets and squares, including the site of Saturday’s clashes, but there was no immediate word on whether protesters were gathering.

Iran’s regime continued to impose a blackout on the country’s most serious internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But fresh images and allegations of brutality emerged as Iranians at home and abroad sought to shed light on a week of astonishing resistance to hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said scores of injured demonstrators who had sought medical treatment after Saturday’s clashes were arrested by security forces at hospitals in the capital.

It said doctors had been ordered to report protest-related injuries to the authorities, and that some seriously injured protesters had sought refuge at foreign embassies in a bid to evade arrest.

“The arrest of citizens seeking care for wounds suffered at the hands of security forces when they attempted to exercise rights guaranteed under their own constitution and international law is deplorable,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the campaign, denouncing the alleged arrests as “a sign of profound disrespect by the state for the well-being of its own people.”

“The government of Iran should be ashamed of itself. Right now, in front of the whole world, it is showing its violent actions,” he said.

State-run Press TV reported that Rafsanjani’s eldest daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, and four other family members were arrested late Saturday. It did not identify the other four.

Last week, state television showed images of Hashemi, 46, speaking to hundreds of supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. After her appearance, hard-line students gathered outside the Tehran prosecutor’s office and accused her of treason, state radio reported.

Rafsanjani, 75, has made no secret of his distaste for Ahmadinejad, whose re-election victory in a June 12 vote was disputed by Mousavi. Ahmadinejad has accused Rafsanjani and his family of corruption.

The influential Rafsanjani now heads two very powerful groups. The most important one is the Assembly of Experts, made up of senior clerics who can elect and dismiss the supreme leader. The second is the Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates disputes between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council, which can block legislation.

His daughter’s arrest came as something of a surprise: Just Friday, Khamenei had praised Rafsanjani as one of the architects of the revolution and an effective political figure for many years. Khamenei acknowledged, however, that the two have “many differences of opinion.”

Thousands of supporters of Mousavi, who claims he won the election, squared off Saturday against security forces in a dramatic show of defiance of Khamenei.

Underscoring how the protesters have become emboldened despite the regime’s repeated and ominous warnings, witnesses said some shouted “Death to Khamenei!” at Saturday’s demonstrations — another sign of once unthinkable challenges to the virtually limitless authority of the country’s most powerful figure.

Sunday’s state media reports also said rioters set two gas stations on fire and attacked a military post in clashes Saturday. They quoted the deputy police chief claiming officers did not use live ammunition to dispel the crowds.

Iran has also acknowledged the deaths of seven protesters in clashes on Monday.

State media also reported a suicide bombing at the shrine of the Islamic Revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on Saturday killed the attacker and injured five other people.

There was some confusion about the death toll. English-language Press TV, which is broadcast only outside the country, put the toll at 13 and labeled those who died “terrorists.” There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

Amnesty International cautioned that it was “perilously hard” to verify the casualty tolls.

“The climate of fear has cast a shadow over the whole situation,” Amnesty’s chief Iran researcher, Drewery Dyke, told the Associated Press. “In the 10 years I’ve been following this country, I’ve never felt more at sea than I do now. It’s just cut off.”

Iran has imposed strict controls on foreign media covering the unrest, saying correspondents cannot go into the streets to report.

Reporters Without Borders said 20 journalists were arrested over the past week. The British Broadcasting Corp. said Sunday that its Tehran-based correspondent, Jon Leyne, had been asked to leave the country. The BBC said its office remained open.

Saturday’s unrest came a day after Khamenei sternly warned Mousavi and his backers to all off demonstrations or risk being held responsible for “bloodshed, violence and rioting.” Delivering a sermon at Friday prayers attended by tens of thousands, Khamenei sided firmly with Ahmadinejad, calling the result “an absolute victory” that reflected popular will and ordering opposition leaders to end their street protests.

Mousavi did not directly reply to the ultimatum.

His camp, meanwhile, denied reports that he had proclaimed himself ready for martyrdom on Saturday.

“Mousavi has never said this,” his close ally, Qorban Behzadiannejad, told the AP. Mousavi’s Web site also said statements that Mousavi was preparing for death were inaccurate.

A police commander sharpened the message Saturday. Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam said more than a week of unrest and marches had become “exhausting, bothersome and intolerable.” He threatened a more “serious confrontation” if protesters return.

On Sunday, former reformist president Mohammad Khatami called for the formation of a board to decide the outcome of the disputed election, and urged the release of detained activists and an end to the violence in the streets.

The government has blocked Web sites such as BBC Farsi, Facebook, Twitter and several pro-Mousavi sites used by Iranians to tell the world about protests and violence. Text messaging has not been working in Iran since last week, and cell phone service in Tehran is frequently down.

But that won’t stifle the opposition networks, said Sami Al Faraj, president of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies.

“They can resort to whispering … they can do it the old-fashioned way,” he said.

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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