AFP: One of the organisers of a mass rally in Tehran backed down on Saturday after authorities threatened a harsh response, but it was unclear if people would stay away as riot police were deploying onto the streets.
By Jay Deshmukh
TEHRAN (AFP) — One of the organisers of a mass rally in Tehran backed down on Saturday after authorities threatened a harsh response, but it was unclear if people would stay away as riot police were deploying onto the streets.
The reformist Combatant Clerics Assembly said "permission was asked to hold a rally, but since it has not been issued, there will be no rally held."
But an aide to defeated candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who had earlier said his supporters planned to go ahead with a rally, later said he was unsure whether they would demonstrate or not.
The interior ministry said no rally anywhere in the country was authorised and warned that "those who violate this will be confronted according to the law."
At the same time, police said the organisers of any future rallies would be arrested, with the police chief saying firm action would be taken against any demonstration.
Following those warnings, witnesses said hundreds of riot police were deploying to Enghelab Square, where the rally was to have taken place.
An aide to Karroubi had told AFP early on Saturday that a rally would be held at 4:00 pm (1130 GMT), but an hour beforehand there were no reports of any people massing to demonstrate.
On Friday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded an end to marches and warned that candidates would be "responsible for the blood, violence and chaos."
Meanwhile, the Guardians Council electoral watchdog offered to randomly recount up to 10 percent of the ballot boxes from the disputed June 12 presidential election, state television said.
The council made its partial recount offer after meeting to study the 646 alleged poll violations registered by the three defeated candidates — former parliament speaker Karroubi, former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi and ex-Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai.
Neither Mousavi nor Karroubi showed up at the meeting, Press TV reported, without saying why.
Early on Saturday afternoon, Mousavi's newspaper website said he would soon make an "important" announcement, but did not elaborate.
However, powerful former president and Mousavi supporter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani denied reports that he too was to issue a statement.
In demanding an end to protests, Khamenei warned that otherwise there could be further bloodshed beyond the seven deaths reported by state radio.
Amnesty International said on Friday it had information of up to 10 deaths.
Beyond Khamenei's general warning, Mousavi was singled out by the head of Iran's security council on Saturday for a specific one.
"Your national duty tells you to refrain from provoking illegal gatherings," Abbas Mohtaj, who is also deputy interior minister, said in a letter to him.
"Should you provoke and call for these illegal rallies you will be responsible for the consequences," he said.
Iran's capital has been rocked by daily demonstrations since the re-election of President Ahmadinejad on June 12 drew claims from leading rival and former premier Mousavi of massive vote fraud.
Siding with Ahmadinejad in his first public appearance since the vote, Khamenei ruled out major fraud in the poll.
"The people have chosen whom they wanted," Khamenei said in a prayer sermon on Friday, referring to Ahmadinejad.
Afterwards, US President Barack Obama warned Iran that the "world is watching" its actions.
"I'm very concerned based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made that the government of Iran recognise that the world is watching," the president said on US television on Friday.
Obama also attempted to debunk claims by some in the Iranian leadership that demonstrators were acting at the behest of the United States, which has had a history of antagonism with Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Senior US officials earlier stressed that Washington was making strenuous efforts to avoid being drawn into the crisis in a way that could be used by the government against the demonstrators.
"The more the United States looks like they are going to interfere, the more it is going to be detrimental," said one official on condition of anonymity.
"This is not about us."
Despite assurances by top officials that Washington would not inject itself into the crisis, both houses of the US Congress voted to condemn violence against demonstrators by the Iranian government.
Karroubi on Friday became the second losing candidate to demand a new election, in a letter to the Guardians Council.
Mousavi has repeatedly demanded a re-run of the poll, denouncing the election as a "shameful fraud."
But Khamenei said there could be no doubting Ahmadinejad's re-election to a second four-year term. "The legal mechanisms in our country do not allow cheating. How can one cheat with a margin of 11 million votes?"
In addition to the United States, other world powers and entities have also expressed concern about the post-election violence and widespread arrests, with EU leaders, the UN human rights body and Amnesty International urging Iran to respect the right to protest.
In the face of the regime's biggest crisis since the 1979 revolution overthrew the pro-Western shah, Iran's Islamic rulers have repeatedly lashed out at "meddling" by foreign powers.