The Cable

Amid unrest, Iran’s supreme leader orders fraud probe

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the Guardian Council to probe claims of election fraud Monday, as tens of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi took to the streets of Tehran in defiance of a ban on their demonstration. The order by Khamenei Monday — which would delay certification of Iran’s ...

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the Guardian Council to probe claims of election fraud Monday, as tens of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi took to the streets of Tehran in defiance of a ban on their demonstration.

The order by Khamenei Monday — which would delay certification of Iran’s elections for another 10 days — marked another dramatic twist in a tumultuous weekend since Iran’s contested Friday elections that have seen some of the largest street protests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“State television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directing a high-level clerical panel, the Guardian Council, to look into charges by pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has said he is the rightful winner of Friday’s presidential election,” the AP reports.

A Tehran-based reporter for the Financial Times told NPR’s Washington affiliate Monday that the Khamenei order may be an effort to calm down unrest and ease tension, not a sign he plans to endorse reversing the election results.

The AP said tens of thousands of supporters of Mousavi are streaming into the streets of Tehran. “The crowd – many wearing the trademark green color of Mousavi’s campaign – was headed toward the capital’s huge Freedom Square in the largest display of opposition unity since Friday’s elections ended with Mousavi claiming widespread fraud.”

“Obviously we continue to have concern about what we’ve seen,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday, from aboard Air Force One en route to Chicago. “Obviously the Iranians are looking into this, as well.  We continue to be heartened by the enthusiasm of young people in Iran. 

“But I think what’s important is the concerns that we have about their nuclear weapons program, and the concern we have about their support for terror isn’t any different than it was on Friday,” Gibbs added. 

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told NPR’s Washington affiliate Monday he thinks the momentum is starting to shift in favor of those contesting the elections results. The ultimate outcome is uncertain at this point, Parsi said.

Middle East expert and journalist Robin Wright told NPR she thought it was a critical juncture, but that several key authority figures seemed unlikely at this point to reverse their endorsement of the official elections results.

“I am absolutely stunned by the amount of protesting we are hearing about,” a Washington-based Iranian analyst said, on condition of anonymity because he does not have permission to speak publicly by his employer. “This is much bigger than the regime must have expected. The increasing violence speaks to that fact as well. However, the most important factor will be how long the protesters manage to go on. The recount could take long (on purpose) to get the steam out of the movement. In addition with arresting journalists and reformers, the movement might calm down.”

UPDATE: President Barack Obama is expected to talk about Iran in an appearance with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at 5pm Monday.

Before the pro-Mousavi demonstrations in Tehran today, Iranian state television showed people demonstrating using pictures from older demonstrations, said Parsi. They said Mousavi will speak. That means some people in the IRIB (Iranian state TV) encouraged the demonstration. And people came, he said, even though they didn’t have any way of organizing in advance or mobilizing and that there was fear that police would shoot on the crowd. “They showed up anyway,” in the tens of thousands.

After the rally, reports said, there was shooting and a pro-government militia reportedly killed a protestor.

“They were doing well by allowing 400,000 Moussavi supporters march and the police did not get involved or harass them,” Los Angeles based Iranian pro democracy activist Pooya Dayanim said. “But with the shootings tonight, I don’t think Moussavi and [former president Mohammad] Khatami can ask the people to remain calm.”

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

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