Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran wins war with protesters but is losing the peace

Word from Tehran is that while the massive street demonstrations that followed the disputed June 12 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad appear to have been put down by force, a behind-the-scenes battle is raging inside the country's ruling religious establishment. A rift between hardline Ahmedinejad supporters and backers of challenger Mirhossein Mousavi, who has refused to concede, is threatening to split the usually unanimous leadership councils, according to the Reuters international news service. The rift has pitted Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has backed the official election results showing Ahmedinejad winning, and the Guardian Council legislative body against other influential religious and political leaders who support Mousavi's call to annul the vote. Former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, as well as dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, have backed Mousavi, Reuters said. Mousavi supporters planned to release thousands of balloons Friday with a message commemorating the life of a young woman slain in a demonstration last week, Reuters said, in a protest against an apparent government crackdown on dissent. Mousavi's daily newspaper, Kalameh-ye Sabz, has been shut down and its staff arrested, Reuters said. New York-based watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists said 40 reporters and media workers have been arrested in Iran since the election. New U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the government crackdown, saying he was "appalled and outraged" by the move. The Group of Eight ministers plan to release a statement Friday condemning the violence and calling for Iran to respect its citizens' "fundamental rights, including freedom of expression," Reuters said.

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