No Letup In Iran

Khamenei Warns Against Disobedience

Opposition Asks New Vote

July 21, 2009|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,Tribune Newspapers

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Iran's supreme leader warned government opponents Monday to end a campaign of civil disobedience while defiant reformists proposed a nationwide referendum to resolve the ongoing dispute over the country's recent presidential election.

Meanwhile, the elite Revolutionary Guard sought to consolidate its power by moving to take control of the oil industry and by meddling in the higher education curriculum.

The moves show that neither supporters of opposition figure Mir Hossein Mousavi nor the camp backing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are backing down five weeks after an election marred by allegations of vote fraud.

The call for a referendum is the latest in a series of direct challenges against the authority of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose demand weeks ago that Iranians accept Ahmadinejad as president for a second term has gone unheeded.

Khamenei warned the country's political class that "any words they utter, any action they take, any analysis they express" could help the nation's international rivals.

"It is examination day," he said. "But anyone who flunks the exam cannot retake it the next year. Failing in this exam is not flunking; it is collapse."

It was Khamenei's first public comment since a prayer sermon Friday by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Mousavi backer, whose words of support for key reformist demands energized the opposition. Khamenei, describing the recent unrest as a foreign plot, appears to be trying to silence the opposition.

But the wounds show no signs of healing, and opposition figures show no sign of relenting. The rift within the establishment was highlighted again Monday by the absence of Rafsanjani, chairman of two powerful government boards, and reformist clergy from an annual Muslim holiday gathering in the capital, according to television footage.

Meanwhile, in a meeting with families of those imprisoned in the government's post-election crackdown on protesters, Mousavi said that "intimidation and threats cannot silence" his supporters.

"A government taking shape in a climate of mistrust would be weak, and it would have to give concessions to foreigners because it lacks any popular legitimacy," he said, according to his Web site. "We are not afraid of costs because we should continue the path of our martyrs."

The Assembly of Combatant Clergy, the reformist political party of former President Mohammad Khatami, issued a declaration Monday calling for the disputed vote results to be put to a referendum.

"Such a referendum would be the only way out of the current spiraling crisis and deadlock, and insistence on ineffective options would further damage public trust," it said.

Khatami, who remains popular but wields little power within the Islamic establishment, suggested that the Expediency Council oversee the election. The government body is led by Rafsanjani.

Expatriate opposition figures for years have called for a referendum on Iran's political system, which grants God-given authority to Khamenei. During his first term as president, Khatami tried unsuccessfully to call a nationwide referendum to decrease the power of unelected clergy.

But Ahmadinejad's hard-line backers also showed little sign of backing down. Gen. Mohammad Esmail Saeedi, second in command of the Revolutionary Guard's Ashura Corps, said university students should be taught how to deal with "soft threats," a call to inject the military branch's view equating dissent with foreign conspiracy into higher education, according to Sepah News, its official Web site.

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