Mousavi Defies Khamenei; Police Attack Protesters at Inqilab Square; Downtown Tehran Burning

Mir Hosain Mousavi issued a powerful implicit denunciation of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Saturday, and insisting again that the results of the presidential election be annulled in favor of wholly new elections. ABC reports:

‘ Mr Mousavi hit back at a speech by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which the Ayatollah ruled out any election fraud. In a statement posted on his newspaper website, Mr Mousavi said his demand for the annulment of the election was an undeniable right and vowed to side with the Iranian people in defending their rights. “If this huge volume of cheating and changing the votes… which has hurt people’s trust, is presented as the very evidence of the lack of cheating, then it will butcher the republican aspect of the system and the idea that Islam is incompatible with a republic will be proven,” Mr Mousavi said. The strong criticism headlined “the fifth statement of Mir Hossein Mousavi to the Iranian people: don’t allow lies and cheaters to steal the flag of defending the Islamic system from you” was briefly pulled from the website but later reposted.’

Some reports say that Mousavi has privately told followers that if he is arrested, they should carry out a nation-wide strike.

Mousavi has thrown down a gauntlet before the Supreme Leader and a battle has been joined. By the rules of the Khomeinist regime, only one of them can now survive. And perhaps neither will.

A. Richard Norton asks at IC Global Affairs whether the Iranian state really has the upper hand. He writes, “Dealing with civil disturbances is a labor intensive work. The natural response is to arrest the leaders and cut their communications, but those steps do not seem to be working to this point. People who are sufficiently inspired to join a demonstration at some risk to their lives constitute a movement not a bureaucratically organized unit. Particularly in fast-moving street confronations where wile, personality and courage are the currency unexpected leaders quickly emerge. As important, people learn quickly how to test, taunt and stretch the government forces. Provided the demonstrators desist from using deadly violence, their moral legitimacy will be enhanced. Plus, the government forces are hardly a monolith.”

Earlier on Saturday, Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the other reform candidate for president, refused to attend a planned reconciliation meeting with the Council of Guardians, Iran’s clerical senate that has been charged to recount ten percent of the ballots. The absence from this meeting, set up by Khamenei to smooth over the dispute, indicated that the reformers’ confidence in Khamenei has completely collapsed.

The politics of the ayatollahs in Qom with regard to the conflict are explored by Aljazeera English:

ABC added,

‘Witnesses reported widespread violence as thousands of opposition supporters tried to stage another protest against last week’s election. Protesters chanted “death to dictatorship” as they walked to the rally, but many were stopped and beaten by security forces, including the dreaded Basij militia. As many as 60 people were taken to hospital. Police used teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. ‘

This observer from a distance in North Tehran, whose account appeared on an email list to which I am subscribed, didn’t give the 3,000 or more protesters high odds against the security forces:

‘ Tehran June 20th, 2009. 6 pm.

. . . About five miles south of here [at Inqilab Square] pitched battles have been in progress between what appears to be a very large number of pro-reform supporters and Baseej security forces. Over their plainclothes, the latter are wearing standard issue sleeveless flak jackets, they are carrying riot squad helmets, a variety of sticks ranging from the traditional indigenous chomaq to more modern varieties such as extendable black electroshock stun batons and riot shields. They are, in other words, professionally equipped (and perhaps trained) riot police who perhaps misplaced their uniforms or have an unusual sense of style.

As the numbers of demonstrators began swelling soon after 4 pm, the security forces prevented people from traveling south to Enghelab Square.

At Amir Abad tear gas was used to disperse the crowd. It is hard to know the details of the mini-battles going on and too early to count the causalities but it is not, sad to say, so difficult to place odds on the outcome.

There was one instance of demonstrators successfully chasing away some security forces by sheer force of numbers and will. They raised a stirring cheer with hundreds of hands in the air. Moments later the security forces returned ten times more in force and pressed that crowd, that happy crowd, back into, of all places, Freedom Street.

Shots were fired into the air. Perhaps they were blanks, although a police officer had said earlier in the day that they had received orders to shoot below the waist with live ammo in cases of coming under attack. (Immediately a joke is making the rounds to the effect that all orders from on high are “below the waist”!)

But the advancing line of riot police had left their rear completely unguarded and tens of Allahu Akbar chanting demonstrators, had they been committed to violence (which they are not) could have attacked from the rear trapping those poor security men. But that is not the nature of this struggle; besides one just can’t trap several dozen security people without knowing what your going to do next. And since this movement is not a military or violent one, not is it very organized, it could never develop tactics like that.

By now, 7 pm, the crowds are mostly dispersed. I have not heard reports of any fatalities yet thank goodness. I have not heard about other parts of the city. All mobile phones are switched off in the area so no contact can be made. Interestingly the authorities have become much more efficient over the last week. At they beginning, they switched of ALL the mobile phone service, including text service, in the entire city so as to disrupt communications among the movement. But today, they only switched it off in the troubled neighborhoods. . . ‘

Another observer said that the Basij hard line militia had positioned itself in Sanati Sharif University in Tehran and that military helicopters were ferrying arms and equipment to them. Security forces lined the streets and sent back up north any protesters trying to come into the city center from north Tehran.

But this person maintained that the protesters were gathering with the intention of marching into the city after dusk.

As it was, fires were burning on Tawhid Square in downtown, and one observer said that the capital was ‘on fire.’ Smoke could be seen billowing above Tehran.

The LAT reports

‘ By nighttime, witnesses said, the unrest stretched from the side streets along Enghelab Street all the way from Azadi (Freedom) Street to Vali Asr Street, a miles-long corridor that is among the city’s most important east-west thoroughfares. There were reports that disturbances had also broken out in other parts of the city, especially key squares in the north Tehran, but they could not be immediately confirmed.’

The LAT adds, “As the clock struck 10 p.m. today, parts of the city roared with chants of “God is great” and “Death to the dictator,” as a nightly ritual of protest continued.”

Graphic video of protesting women shot down can be found here. Warning: Very disturbing.

Brave Roger Cohen is in Tehran for the NYT, and he speaks of motorcycles set on fire sending columns of flames into the air, of teargas swirling about, of police wavering about whether they can attack fellow Iranians, and of the barricades being staffed by courageous women of all sorts.

Around 10 pm GMT some Iranian sites were reporting that tanks had entered Azadi Square.

Likewise there were eyewitness reports on my lists of an outbreak of violence between protesters and security men in various districts of the southwestern city of Shiraz. Spooked police there have sometimes randomly attacked persons who only look as though they might be protesters.

Huffington has an important statement of Iranian Americans on the events in Iran.

End/ (Not Continued)

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