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Iran's Guardian Council validates Ahmadinejad's election victory

The council affirms the presidential election results after conducting a recount of 10% of the votes. Meanwhile, Iran says 5 of 8 British Embassy employees arrested over the weekend have been freed.

June 30, 2009|Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, AND TEHRAN — After quickly finishing a partial vote count it said confirmed the initial tally of ballots, Iran's Guardian Council on Monday pronounced as valid President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's June 12 reelection, which opponents say was marred by massive vote fraud.

In its assessment, the conservative 12-member council appears to have simply ignored the vote-rigging allegations that led to massive street protests, including claims that ballots were taken before counting to military bases beyond the sight of election monitors.

"Since most of the complaints were not cases of vote-rigging or electoral violation or were minor violations that might happen in every election and can be ignored, the Guardian Council held numerous sessions and agreed that the complaints were not valid," wrote Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who heads the council, in a letter to the interior minister.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters, meanwhile, that five of the eight British Embassy employees arrested over the weekend in Tehran had been released but that three, all Iranian nationals, were still being interrogated.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London said Britain remained "deeply concerned" about the detained staff. "We must now see that the others are set free to resume their work," he said at a news conference.

Tensions remained high in the capital a day after an unauthorized demonstration drew thousands of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi's supporters to the streets of northeastern Tehran. In downtown Tehran, pro-government Basiji militiamen armed with batons and shields lined up in preparation for potential protests. Al Arabiya television, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, reported that supporters of Mousavi and another contender, reformist Mehdi Karroubi, had tried to form a miles-long human chain along the main north-south road, Vali Asr Street.

A spokesman for Mousavi declined to comment on the Guardian Council's decision. A confidant of Karroubi said the central committee of his political party would decide on a course of action today.

Mousavi had previously rejected the partial recount as a ruse and continued to demand a nullification of the balloting, in which the government said he had garnered 34% of the vote compared with Ahmadinejad's 63%.

Mousavi had refused to cooperate with the recount effort, calling instead for a panel of independent legal experts and religious leaders to examine the alleged irregularities of the vote count, according to a message posted on his website Ghalamnews.

Critics say that all the institutions that have overseen the election and its aftermath are squarely in the camp of the conservative Ahmadinejad.

Analysts said the council had already hinted it did not have the authority, political capital or independence to conduct more than a cursory analysis of the vote. "By rapid recounting of 10% of the vote, the Guardian Council removed the burden from its shoulders, because it knows that it is not capable of solving this problem," said Marand Thaqafi, a Tehran social scientist.

Instead of bolstering confidence in the vote, the council's erratic behavior throughout the crisis has furthered doubts about the election, said Khalil Bahramian, an attorney. "How can the Guardian Council one day approve the election and next day recount the votes?" he said. "A judge cannot give judgment before considering all aspects of the case."

Analysts said the opposition could still appeal to the Expediency Council, headed by Mousavi backer Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to intervene and assess the vote. Iran's parliament, led by a conservative rival of Ahmadinejad, could also refuse to ratify the validity of the election.

On Mousavi's Facebook page, the candidate and his supporters sounded a defiant note. "He is under strong pressure to end this," said a message posted hours before the Council's announcement. "But he always said he will stand for the people's will, to the end."

Karroubi has also called for nullifying the vote, while the third challenger, Mohsen Rezai, also declined to take part in the recount.

In an interview published Monday, Rezai's brother said that 70% of the ballots in some boxes had been written with the same pen and handwriting. He did not specify how many ballot boxes he was referring to.

Iranian officials have struggled to come up with explanations for the upsurge in civil unrest and killings during public protests believed by many to have been carried out by clandestine government supporters attempting to frighten the demonstrators off the streets.

In a letter Monday, Ahmadinejad asked judicial officials to investigate the death of Neda Agha-Soltan "to identify and bring to justice the elements responsible for this crime." The 26-year-old aspiring tour guide was shot and killed June 20 during a demonstration.

Though Iran has blamed Britain, other foreign nations and the international media for fomenting the unrest, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said Iranian authorities did not intend to shut down the British or any other foreign mission.

"We have no intention to reduce our level of diplomatic relations with the U.K. or any other country," he said.

He also said Iran was ready to begin talks on its nuclear program with the West, telling reporters, "After the presidential election in 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran has become more powerful and influential than it was before."

--

daragahi@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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