Sunday, June 14, 2009

Unrest in Iran Deepens as Leading Critics Are Detained


TEHRAN — Violence and acrimony over Iran’s disputed election intensified on Sunday, with word spreading that more than 100 prominent opposition members had been detained, riots erupting in Tehran and other cities, and the triumphant incumbent hinting that his top challenger risks punishment for questioning the result.

Two of the three opposition candidates and a clerical group issued fresh statements requesting an annulment of the election on Friday, which gave a lopsided victory to the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative who has become a polarizing figure at home and abroad. They did so despite a decree from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the outcome was fair.

It was unclear how far Mr. Ahmadinejad’s adversaries were willing or able to go in challenging the result. But supporters of the opposition candidates skirmished with baton-wielding riot police officers on the edges of a government-organized victory rally in Tehran. There were also reports of riots in other Iranian cities, and the protests were echoed by Iranians demonstrating against the election results in Washington and in several European capitals.

Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed the opposition’s allegations of fraud, saying that the victory had given him a bigger mandate than ever. He criticized Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main opposition candidate — who remained at home on Sunday with security forces closely monitoring his movements — in a veiled statement that many here saw as a threat.

“He ran a red light, and he got a traffic ticket,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said of his rival during a news conference at the presidential palace.

Those resisting the election results gained a potentially important new ally on Sunday when a moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy, issued a statement posted on reformist Web sites saying that the vote was rigged and calling for it to be annulled. The statement warned that “if this process becomes the norm, the republican aspect of the regime will be damaged and people will lose confidence in the system.”

Mr. Moussavi called for the clergy to join his protest in an open letter late Saturday. It is difficult to say how influential the statement by the association, made up of 27 moderate clerics, will be in Iran’s complex and opaque power structure, but Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last word on many important matters, is sensitive to clerical opinion.

Iran’s Interior Ministry announced on Saturday that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won about 63 percent of the vote, after a hard-fought election campaign and the rise of a broad reform-oriented opposition that clearly had rattled Iran’s ruling elite. Opposition leaders have catalogued a list of what they call election violations and irregularities in the vote, which most observers had expected to go to a second-round runoff.

The opposition members arrested late Saturday and Sunday were from all the major factions opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami, opposition Web sites reported. Some were released after several hours.

Mr. Ahmadinejad called the opposition protesters “unimportant,” comparing them to disappointed soccer fans after a match. He suggested the accusations of fraud were the work of foreign agitators and journalists.

He also seemed to be demanding affirmation of his election’s legitimacy from other nations, saying, “We are now asking the positions of all countries regarding the elections, and assessing their attitude to our people.”

The international reaction that trickled out Sunday was anything but a resounding affirmation, however. In the United States, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said there appeared to be “some real doubt” about the results. But he said the United States would press on with its effort to engage the Iranian government.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s electoral rivals appeared to be holding firm in their protest against the vote despite the arrests and a mass crackdown on street protesters by the police and Basij militia members, many of them wielding batons, whips and chains. Nationwide protest movements in 1999 and 2003 trailed off after a week or so.

In a statement, Mr. Moussavi said he had asked the Guardian Council of Iran, which must certify the election for it to be legal, to cancel the vote. He also said he was being monitored by the authorities and was unable to join his followers. His campaign headquarters has been shuttered, he said.

Another candidate, the reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi, echoed Mr. Moussavi’s demand for the election to be canceled. “I am announcing again that the elections should not be allowed and the results have no legitimacy or social standing,” Mr. Karroubi said in a statement posted on opposition Web sites. “Therefore, I do not consider Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of the republic.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke Sunday at Valiasr Square in central Tehran, surrounded by thousands of chanting, flag-waving voters in what was clearly intended to be a show of popular support for his victory. But the smell of tear gas and smoke drifted over the cheering crowds. Only a few blocks away, groups of protesters chanted their own slogans against the government, and some of them, bloodied and screaming, could be seen running from police officers armed with clubs.

As night fell, protests resumed in nearby Vanak Square, where the rallies began Saturday, and chants of “Bye-bye, dictator!” and “God is great!” could be heard from rooftops in several areas of the capital.

“No one led these people in the streets,” said Bashu, a 28-year-old opposition supporter who, like many others, was afraid to give his full name. “This is the least we can do; we cannot stay at home and watch them celebrate a fake election.”

He opened his shirt to show long, red welts on his chest where, he said, a Basij militia member had whipped him with a chain. Next to him, a female friend dressed in a black Islamic chador stood with a bloody gash on her forehead that she said had been inflicted by the police.

“We just hope the people of the world hear our voice,” Bashu said. “We haven’t heard from Moussavi; we hear he is under arrest.”

Opposition supporters said they were organizing a major rally to take place Monday in Tehran, though it was not clear whether the authorities would permit it.

The pro-Ahmadinejad rally on Sunday afternoon took place in an atmosphere of extraordinary tension, with riot police officers forming barricades around Valiasr Square and beating people visibly identified with the opposition before they could enter. But inside the barriers, a number of opposition supporters approached a reporter, saying, “They stole the election” or “It is all lies” before scurrying back into the crowd.

The rally also rendered starkly visible the bitter class and cultural divisions that lie behind the disputed election. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters, many of them poor and devout, view the opposition as arrogant and irreligious.

“They are traitors,” said Soraya Parvaie, 20, a student. “Our people are still awake, because of our revolution 30 years ago, and we will defend this revolution with our last blood.”

Another young woman nearby, apparently an opposition supporter, disagreed. “It wasn’t an election, he was just named,” she said. Instantly, two older women in traditional Islamic dress who were standing nearby began cursing and shoving the first woman, who ran away.

“She would like to take off her head scarf, that’s why she says such things,” said one of the women who had chased her away. “She benefits from the country’s wealth, look at her.”

Not far away, in the surging crowd in Valiasr Square, other Ahmadinejad supporters, many carrying banners and flags, angrily defended their president as an incorruptible champion of the poor. Most said they could not believe the election had been stolen.

“He is the only one since the revolution who wants to work for the common people,” said Amir Mallikian, a 28-year-old civil engineer. “He cares about those who are weak in our society. He is not afraid of any foreign power, not even of powers inside the country.”

The provincial capital has suffered 18 terrorist attacks since the launch of the military operation in Swat

PESHAWAR: The provincial capital has suffered 18 terrorist attacks since the launch of the military operation in Swat and rest of the Malakand division in April 2009.

The blast at the Pearl Continental (PC) hotel on June 9 was the deadliest that killed 17 people and injured over 50 others. Besides, the explosion, triggered with over 500 kilograms of explosives and mortar shells, severely affected the image of the city as foreign missions and organisations either restricted movement of their staff or shifted them to Islamabad.

Terrorists struck at the provincial metropolis and a nearby town thrice in a day, two days after the PC blast. The provincial minister for prisons, Mian Nisar Gul Kakakhel, sustained injuries when militants attempted to kidnap or kill the NWFP government cabinet member while on way from his hometown of Karak to Peshawar.

A police party on Ring Road near Charsadda Road was first attacked with a hand grenade and later hit by a suicide bomber, killing one person and injuring eight policemen on the same day. Terrorists continue to laugh at the security arrangements in the city that day when they exchanged fire with security personnel just outside the residence of corps commander Peshawar, one of the most protected parts of the province.

Intelligence reports about tasking terrorists to hit any target in Peshawar are being received on a daily basis. The situation has resulted in erecting barricades on almost all the main entry points to the city and cantonment, causing inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of Peshawarites everyday.

Apart from the inconvenience, the dwellers of the city are fearful of everyday terrorism incidents. This has forced many to change their planning, as they fear a bleak future of the city ahead, if the rulers of the country and the province did not succeed in stamping out the terrorism.

Peshawar has proved out to be a soft target for terrorists since 2004. However, the ongoing wave of terror has intensified with the launch of military operation in Swat. Peshawarites started to bear the brunt of the army action on May 8 when three rockets were fired at the city international airport.

A police van was reportedly attacked by the terrorists in Chamkani on May 12 when the cops were transporting some militants. Police not only foiled the attack, but also managed to gun down five assailants, including a commander of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Nato container terminals on Ring Road were attacked twice in mid May, torching several trailers and containers.

A suicide attack on FC camp near Matani killed 11 persons, including security personnel on May 11 while a huge blast ripped through the crowded Barrisco Bazaar near Aasya Gate on May 14, leaving 12 dead and dozens of others injured. The same day another explosion occurred in the congested Jinnah Street, or Gora Bazaar, in the Peshawar cantonment that killed a minor girl and wounded four others.

A high-intensity blast outside the Tasveer Mahal Cinema on Cinema Road on May 21 killed another 12 people. Over 65 people, mostly labourers, were injured in the explosion that destroyed the cinema building and nearby buildings.

Terror struck the city again on May 28 with twin blats in Qissa Khwani and a suicide attack on a police post in Sra Khawra on Kohat Road in quick succession. A total of nine people were killed in these terrorist attacks.

On June 3, a school was blown up in Salmankhel area while a police van was blown up and its driver killed in another attack on the police party in Hazarkhwani on June 8. The provincial capital is literally under siege where dwellers fear anything can happen to their lives and families. Though strict security measures have been taken in and around the city to protect its almost three million population, terrorist continue to break into Peshawar and hit sensitive targets right under the nose of the security agencies.

Mousavi supporters plan rally in Tehran

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate plan a rally in Tehran on Monday to protest against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which has sparked two days of violent protests in the capital.

Former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi has appealed to the Islamic Republic's top legislative body to annul Friday's election result, in which hard-liner Ahmadinejad took 63 percent of the vote, because of what he alleges were irregularities.

Ahmadinejad himself held a triumphant rally on Sunday, attended by a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of people. It was not clear whether authorities would allow any demonstration by his opponents.

The unrest that has rocked Tehran and other cities since results were declared on Saturday is the sharpest show of discontent against the Islamic Republic's leadership for years.

The election result has disconcerted Western powers trying to induce the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter to curb its nuclear program. U.S. President Barack Obama had urged Iran's leadership "to unclench its fist" for a new start in ties.

Pro-Mousavi demonstrators threw stones at police at Tehran University on Sunday and also clashed with Ahmadinejad supporters on a main street in the city that was littered with broken glass and fires.

In the north of the capital, a stronghold of Mousavi backers, riot police patrolled streets after midnight. Rubbish burned in the street, some cars had their windows broken, and police blocked access to roads.


In a statement on his website, Mousavi said he had formally asked Iran's legislative Guardian Council to cancel the election result.

"I urge you, Iranian nation, to continue your nationwide protests in a peaceful and legal way," he said.

Mousavi's supporters handed out leaflets calling for a rally in Tehran on Monday afternoon. After dusk some took to rooftops across the city calling out "Allah Akbar" (God is greatest), an echo of tactics by protesters in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Ahmadinejad appeared at his rally amid a sea of red, white and green Iranian flags waved by supporters thronging Tehran's Vali-e Asr square, some perched on rooftops or cars, to applaud his win.

"Some ... say the vote is disrupted, there has been a fraud. Where are the irregularities in the election?" Ahmadinejad said in a speech that the crowd punctuated with roars of approval.

"Some people want democracy only for their own sake. Some want elections, freedom, a sound election. They recognize it only as long as the result favors them," he said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden cast doubt on the election result but said Washington was reserving its position for now.

"It sure looks like the way they're suppressing speech, the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated, that there's some real doubt," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked if Ahmadinejad had won the vote.

Germany, one of Iran's biggest trading partners and a negotiator in the West's nuclear talks with Tehran, said it had summoned the Iranian ambassador.

"We are looking toward Tehran with great concern at the moment. There are a lot of reports about electoral fraud," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told German ZDF TV.

An adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy said what was happening in Iran was "clearly not good news for anyone, neither for the Iranians nor for peace and stability in the world."

Iran's refusal to halt atomic work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs, a charge Tehran denies, has sparked talk of possible U.S. or Israeli strikes on its nuclear sites.

‘Decisive offensive’ ordered against Baitullah Mehsud

ISLAMABAD: The government announced on Sunday that a ‘decisive offensive’ will be launched against Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and his associates.

‘The government has decided to launch an operation against militants in Fata. It has been decided that a comprehensive and decisive operation will be launched to eliminate Baitullah Mehsud and dismantle his network,’ NWFP Governor Owais Ghani said at a press conference here on Sunday night. He said the Taliban’s actions did not match their words.

‘We have repeatedly warned the Mehsud tribe through tribal elders to give up their miscreant activities and advised them not to shelter foreign militants. The government will not tolerate any act against the security of the people’s lives and property at any cost,’ he said.

‘They kept on their miscreant activities and continued to harbour terrorists. As a result, many people have lost their lives in suicide attacks in Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad and today in Dera Ismail Khan,’ the governor said.

He said the Taliban had committed a reprehensible act by kidnapping students of the Razmak Cadet College and training innocent teenagers for carrying out suicide attacks.

Governor Ghani said the army had been ordered to launch a crackdown on militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

‘Details and the strategy of the operation will be decided by the army,’ he said. He said Baitullah was the root of the problem and suicide bombers were being trained by him.

He said it was the responsibility of every government to establish its writ, protect people’s lives and property and maintain law and order.

‘Taliban are tarnishing the image of Pakistan and maligning Islam with such actions. They are enemies of Islam and Pakistan who want to destabilise the country,’ he added.

The governor said the terrorists were spending about Rs4 billion a year on ration, communication, transport, weapons and salaries of militants. Answering a question about the situation in Malakand division, he said terrorists had been defeated and they were on the run.

He claimed that many areas in the region had been cleared after which caravans of displaced people comprising more than 100 trucks had returned to their villages in Kalam over the past few days. He said supply of water, electricity and other basic amenities had been restored in Swat and other areas.

AP adds: Army spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said: ‘The government has made the announcement. We will give a comment after evaluating the orders.’

In recent weeks, militants and security personnel have repeatedly skirmished in South Waziristan, though the army has insisted that it is merely responding to attacks, not pursuing a new offensive.

A Taliban ‘commander’, Qari Hussain Ahmad, blamed the intelligence agencies for a blast that took place in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday, saying the government was indulging in such acts to legitimise an operation in Waziristan. ‘They want to malign us. They want to use killings of innocent citizens against us.’

Nine killed in Dera Ismail Khan market blast

DERA ISMAIL KHAN:A bomb blast in a market killed nine people in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday, the latest in a wave of attacks since the army launched an offensive against Taliban militants.

The militants have responded with a string of bombs in towns and cities.

Separately on Sunday, a suspected US drone aircraft fired a missile in the South Waziristan region, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, killing three militants travelling in a vehicle, a witness and officials said.

The bomb in a market in Dera Ismail Khan killed eight people and wounded 25, a government official said.

"The initial probe suggests that the device was planted in a push-cart parked in the middle of the market," Syed Mohsin Shah, the top government official in the city, told Reuters.

The drone strike on Sunday, the first since May 16, was in Laddah, in South Waziristan, about 60 km (40 miles) north of the region's main town of Wana.

"The missile destroyed the vehicle and I saw three bodies lying next to it," Pashtun tribal leader Habibullah Mehsud told Reuters by telephone from the region on the Afghan border.

A government official in the region confirmed the attack, saying drones had been flying over South Waziristan since early morning. The identity of the dead militants was not known.