Iran ready for vote recount after protests kill seven

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TEHRAN: Iran s election watchdog said on Tuesday it was ready for a recount in the hotly disputed presidential vote as the nation braced for further protests after seven people were killed in street battles.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad s camp and supporters of defeated rival Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for rallies in Tehran, swept up in the biggest outpouring of public anger since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In an apparent move to quell the unrest, the Guardians Council election watchdog said it was prepared for a recount if irregularities were found in Friday s election, which gave Ahmadinejad a landslide win over Mousavi.

And Mousavi urged his supporters not to turn up for their rally on Tuesday, which was due to be held in a Tehran square just an hour after a similar demonstration called by the regime, in a bid to avoid any violence.

Iran, which has been at loggerheads with the West over its nuclear drive, is facing an international backlash over its crackdown against the opposition protestors and the validity of the election itself.

Seven people were killed in fighting in Tehran on Monday after a mass rally which saw Mousavi appear in public for the first time since polling day, and demonstrations have also spread to other major cities across the country.

The EU said it was very concerned about the unrest.

Tyres, dustbins and motorbikes were set ablaze by protestors in Tehran as hundreds of thousands took to the streets in support of Mousavi, who has denounced the election as a rigged charade.

State radio said at least seven people were killed when thugs attacked and vandalized government buildings at the end of the rally, which had been banned by the authorities as an illegal gathering.

A military post was attacked with the intention of looting its weapons. Unfortunately, seven of our citizens were killed and a number of them injured, it said.

Medical sources suggested the toll could be as high as eight.

The mounting protests against Ahmadinejad s re-election have created the worst political crisis in Iran in 30 years of Islamic rule and some analysts have raise concerns about the future of the oil-rich Shiite Muslim nation.

Iran s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the election watchdog the Guardians Council to probe the vote-rigging allegations raised by Mousavi, who had declared himself the victor on polling day.

If the Guardians Council reaches the conclusion that such offences as buying votes or using fake identity cards have been committed… it will order a recount, council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai told the official news agency IRNA.

The authorities have warned they would nip any velvet revolution in the bud and have rounded up scores of people in Tehran and other cities, including prominent reformist leaders close to former president Mohammad Khatami.

Iran also announced a ban on foreign media covering unauthorized rallies.

Top dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a one-time heir to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who was later sidelined, called on the youth of the oppressed nation to pursue peaceful rallies.

And in a rare criticism, parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a conservative rival to Ahmadinejad, blamed the interior minister for attacks on civilians and university students.

US President Barack Obama, who has called for dialogue with the Islamic republic after three decades of hostility, said he was deeply troubled by the unrest and would stick to tough diplomacy over Iran s nuclear drive.

Monday s violence flared after Mousavi, a former wartime premier who has pledged to improve ties with the outside world, appeared in public for the first time since the election.

Pictures showed armed men, wearing helmets and in civilian clothes, pointing guns at the crowds from the rooftop of a local base of the Islamic Basij militia.

God willing, we will take back our rights, Mousavi shouted from the roof of a car amid a sea of hundreds of thousand of Iranians packed into central Tehran, a day after a victory rally address by Ahmadinejad.

On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad himself was in Russia – a key ally which is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant – for a security summit. Moscow has described the election as an internal affair.

In his latest salvo at the West, Ahmadinejad said the age of empires was over, but made no mention of the situation back home.

In his first public comments since the election, Obama called on Iranian leaders to respect free speech and democracy, saying it is up to Iranians to make a decision about who Iran s leaders will be.

I think it s important that moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views, he said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called for the will of the Iranian people to be fully respected.

European governments also complained about the tactics used against protesters and added their voices to US doubt over the election outcome, with the EU calling on Tehran to launch a probe.

Britain said the world should not take sides but Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the authorities to refrain from violence.

The elections are a matter for the Iranian people, but if there are serious questions that are now being asked about the conduct of the elections, they have got to be answered, he said.

The Iranian authorities have also cracked down on local and foreign media, with Mousavi s own newspaper reportedly suspended and international outlets reporting the arrest and harassment of their journalists.

Some telephone, texting and Internet services have also been disrupted, and protestors have been turning to Twitter to spread word about the dramatic events in their currently.

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