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Ayatollah warns protesters to end campaign of civil disobedience

Government opponents, meanwhile, call for a national referendum to resolve the disputed presidential election.

July 21, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

BEIRUT — Iran's supreme leader on Monday sternly warned government opponents to end a campaign of civil disobedience while defiant reformists provocatively 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 calling for a change in higher education curriculum.

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

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

In pointed comments aimed at the reformist camp, 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 unrest as a foreign plot, appears to be trying to silence the opposition by vowing to crack down on dissidents and by rejecting the view that the country is in a state of crisis.

But 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 TV footage.

Meanwhile, in a meeting with families of those imprisoned in the government's postelection 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 website. "We are not afraid of costs because we should continue the path of our martyrs."

New street protests are expected today in downtown Tehran and other cities in support of Mousavi on the anniversary of the day in 1952 when soldiers refused to fire on demonstrators supporting Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a nationalist hero who was removed the following year in a CIA-backed coup d'etat.

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 have for years 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.

Ahmadinejad's hard-line supporters 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, the corps' official website.

Ahmadinejad is also seeking to appoint Brig. Gen. Rostam Qassemi, a commander of the Revolutionary Guard, as oil minister, reported Khabar Online, a news website close to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani. Qassemi commands a multibillion-dollar Revolutionary Guard-run business involved in the oil industry.

"The June 12 election let us take power in our hand, and it is the most significant political development," Gen. Yadollah Javani, head of the guard's political bureau, said Monday, according to Sepah News. "It was a turning point that has introduced substantial changes into our political conditions."

Meanwhile, reports suggested that hard-liners were also attempting to tighten controls over the army. The website Peiknet reported that the Revolutionary Guard arrested 24 army officers who held a secret meeting Thursday to discuss the crisis. Over the weekend, Khamenei replaced the head of the army's "ideological-political department."

--

daragahi@latimes.com

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