Iran protesters gather despite Guards warning

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TEHRAN: Around 1,000 opposition demonstrators gathered in Tehran on Monday, witnesses said, defying a warning from the Revolutionary Guards that it would crush further protests as the regime battles to contain an escalating crisis over the disputed presidential election.

Witnesses said about 300 to 400 police and members of the Islamic volunteer Basij militia were preparing to confront the protesters in the central Haft-e Tir square.

The Guards – an elite force set up to protect the Islamic republic in the wake of the 1979 revolution – threatened a decisive and revolutionary riposte to any further unrest.

The warning came after state radio said at least 457 people had been detained in street clashes in Tehran on Saturday that left 10 people dead, bringing the overall toll from a week of violence to at least 17.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has led a wave of massive protests over what he says was a rigged election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, urged supporters to continue demonstrating but to adopt self-restraint to avoid more bloodshed.

The nation s election watchdog the Guardians Council has acknowledged some discrepancies in the June 12 vote but insisted they would not effect the outcome, while the opposition is insisting not on a recount but a new vote.

The Guards – echoing a warning by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday – said it strongly condemned the illegal path taken by deceived elements amd demanded an end to rioting and vandalism, in a statement quoted by the Mehr news agency.

If not, they should expect a decisive and revolutionary confrontation from the children of the Iranian nation in the Guards, the Basij militia and other police and security forces to end the mutiny and riots.

Since the turmoil began, Iranian security forces have cracked down on demonstrators and many hundreds of protestors as well as prominent reformists, journalists and analysts have been arrested.

Footage broadcast on the Internet has shown scenes of brutal violence in Tehran, with one video viewed by hundreds of thousands around the globe purportedly showing a bloodstained young woman named Neda reportedly killed when hit by a bullet in Tehran.

The foreign media is banned from covering demonstrations, effectively keeping their journalists off the streets, but Iranians have been using social networking sites such as Twitter to get news to the outside world.

World leaders have voiced mounting alarm over the unrest, which has jolted the pillars of the Islamic regime and raised concerns over the future of the Shiite Muslim powerhouse, the fourth largest oil producer in the world.

But Iranian leaders have lashed out at meddling by Western nations – particularly the United States and Britain – and accused the foreign media, already facing tight restrictions on their work, of fomenting the unrest.

Iran s foreign ministry took aim at the BBC and Voice of America, saying they were Israeli agents who aimed to weaken the national solidarity, threaten territoral integrity and disintegrate Iran.

Iran has ordered the BBC correspondent in Tehran to leave the country.

Four student unions are also planning demonstrations outside the British embassy on Tuesday to protest at interference by Britain s perverted government.

The Fars news agency quoted Esmail Tahmouressi, a student leader, warning that Tuesday could be another November 4 , the date when Islamist students captured the US embassy in Tehran after the 1979 revolution.

MPs have also been calling for Iran to reduced its relations with Britain.

The 12-member Guardians Council, which has said it would consider a partial recount, said its preliminary investigation revealed that the number of ballots cast in 50 of the total 366 electoral districts exceeded the number of eligible voters.

But spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai said there were no irregularities and insisted any recount will not change the election outcome much.

Ahmadinejad, who had put Iran on a collision course with the West during his first four-year term with his anti-Israeli tirades and defiant stance on the country s nuclear drive, was declared the victor with 63 percent of the vote.

Mousavi and his two fellow defeated presidential challengers have complained that there were more votes than voters in up to 170 districts, and have listed 646 irregularities.

To protest against lies and fraud is your right. Be hopeful that you will get your right and do not allow others who want to provoke your anger… to prevail, Mousavi said on his newspaper website Kalemeh.

British think-tank Chatham House said on Sunday the results showed irregularities in the turnout and highly implausible swings to Ahmadinejad.

Even senior Iranian figures have raised concerns over the vote.

A large portion of the people perceived the election result to be different to the one officially announced. This perception must be respected, parliament speaker Ali Larijani said.

And in a further sign of cracks within Iran s elite, five members of influential cleric and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani s family, including his high-profile daughter Faezeh Hashemi, were detained by the authorities for at least 24 hours.

Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the US Senate Intelligence Committee, backed President Barack Obama s cautious response to the turmoil, saying: It is very crucial, as I see it, that we not have our fingerprints on this.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has rejected charges that protesters were being manipulated or motivated by foreign nations and denounced what he said were Iran s effort to turn the election dispute into a battle with the outside world.

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