Thursday, June 18, 2009

Khamenei tells Mousavi to toe the line over election or be cast out

The moderate Iranian leader who says that he was robbed of victory in last week’s presidential election faces a fateful choice today: support the regime or be cast out.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has told Mir Hossein Mousavi to stand beside him as he uses Friday prayers at Tehran University to call for national unity. An army of Basiji — Islamic volunteer militiamen — is also expected to be bussed in to support the Supreme Leader.

The demand was made at a meeting this week with representatives of all three candidates who claim that the poll was rigged, and it puts Mr Mousavi on the spot. He has become the figurehead of a popular movement that is mounting huge demonstrations daily against the “theft” of last Friday’s election by President Ahmadinejad, the ayatollah’s protégé.

Mr Mousavi, 67, is a creature of the political Establishment — a former revolutionary and prime minister who would like to liberalise Iranian politics but has never challenged the system in the way his followers are doing. It was unclear last night what he would do or even whether the protests would die away if he backed down. Yesterday tens of thousands of demonstrators packed into the Imam Khomeini Square in Tehran — named after the founder of the Islamic Republic — for another massive rally, this one to mourn protesters killed in Monday’s clashes with pro-government militias.

Men, women and children from all backgrounds came dressed in black, with green wristbands, the colour of the Mousavi campaign, and staged a two-hour vigil. Some held banners bearing the names or pictures of the dead, and placards proclaiming “My martyred brother, we will get back your vote” or “We have not had people killed to compromise and accept a doctored ballot box”.

There was near silence until Mr Mousavi arrived with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and the throng broke into chants of “Mousavi! We support you!” With almost ecstatic fervour, the traditional lament for Shia Islam’s most important martyr, “Ya Hussein! was answered by the defeated presidential candidate’s forenames “Mir Hossein!

Mr Mousavi was accompanied by Mehdi Karoubi, another of the defeated candidates. He attempted to speak from the top of a car using a loudhailer, but few could hear him.

As the protesters departed just before dusk they left behind little shrines of black candles placed around photographs of the dead. “It encourages us to follow their path, fighting for the vote,” one woman said.

It was the sixth day of demonstrations and first to be held in the poorer south-central district, an apparent effort to dispel notions that the protesters are middle-class or pro-Western.

The Guardian Council, a body of 12 senior clerics whom the Supreme Leader has asked to investigate claims of electoral fraud, said it had received 646 complaints of irregularities. It has invited Mr Mousavi and the other two candidates challenging Mr Ahmadinejad — Mr Karoubi and Mohsen Rezai — to set out their grievances tomorrow and will decide on Sunday whether to order a recount. Nobody believes that it will. The Supreme Leader controls the council and is widely believed to have asked it to investigate as a way to play for time.

Mr Ahmadinejad defended the vote, telling a Cabinet meeting yesterday that “the ideals of the Islamic Revolution were the winners”.

PML factions stage walkout over ‘Pakhtunkhwa’

PESHAWAR: The lawmakers of both factions of Pakistan Muslim League (N and Q) on Wednesday staged a walkout from the budget session when Senior Minister Rahimdad Khan repeatedly called Sarhad as Pakhtunkhwa during his speech.

Khan was reading out his budget speech, perhaps written by some bureaucrat, laced with names like Sarhad, rejected by the Awami National Party MPAs and supported by both PML factions. Wherever the word Sarhad province occurred in his written speech, Khan intentionally replaced it with the word Pakhtunkhwa, which stirred a rumpus in the house.

Khan, one of the two Frontier senior ministers, was presenting the budget on behalf of his ailing colleague, Finance Minister Mohammad Humayun Khan, in the house.

‘In the Constitution, it is NWFP, while the finance minister was adamant on calling it Pakhtunkhwa. It is violation of the Constitution. If the parliament changes the name, we will accept it, but right now we oppose calling it Pakhtunkhwa,’ PML parliamentary leader Pir Sabir Shah told the journalists.

He denied that his party had endorsed ANP resolution on changing of the province’s name. ‘We had opted to abstain from the session; when the assembly had approved this resolution. Only parliament through one third majority of its members can bring any such change into the Constitution,’ he said.

Giving his party’s version, Provincial Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said calling Sarhad as Pakhtunkhwa was not unconstitutional, because President Asif Ali Zardari had called it Pakhtunkhwa on the floor of parliament and in the United Nations General Assembly.

Speaker Karamatullah Chagarmati, however, advised the minister to confine himself to the written text. But the minister kept himself oscillating between Sarhad and Pakhtunkhwa throughout the speech.

Earlier, the speaker administered oath to the newly elected MPA, Auranzeb Khan, who won the election from PF-1, Peshawar-I, which fell vacant after the assassination of his brother Alamzeb Khan.

He thanked all the political parties for extending him political support during the by-election. Khan also lashed out at the Peshawar police, which had failed to track down the killers of his brother Alamzeb Khan. He said growing incidents of kidnapping for ransom, bomb blasts, burglaries, murders and car-snatching were enough to gauge the performance of police force.

During his remarks about the journalist community, the speaker called them the ‘fifth pillar of the state.’ Perhaps, he was mixing up ‘fourth estate’ with the ‘fifth columnist.’ None of the lawmakers, even Abdul Akbar Khan, Saquibullah Chamkani, Israrullah Khan Gandapur, known for their scholarship, tried to enlighten the speaker.

Earlier, when the speaker invited the finance minister to present the budget, Pir Sabir Shah stood in his seat and proposed a discussion on the law and order situation in the province. He said it was more important to speak on the war-like situation in the province than listening to the budget speech, but the chair didn’t take his words seriously.

The speaker said he had put a ban on the guests and personal guards of the MPAs owing to the deteriorating law and order situation and danger of terror incidents in the city. He hoped that lawmakers would extend him cooperation during the budget session.

A motion tabled by Abdul Akabar Khan of Pakistan People’s Party drew the attention of the chair about the two days gap in proceedings after the budget speech and asked the speaker to reduce it. The chair entertained the suggestion and reduced the gap to one day instead of two days.

All roads leading towards assembly building remained closed till the adjournment of the sitting.

U.S. Struggling for Right Response to Iran

Washington Post

The political unrest in Iran presents the Obama administration with a dilemma: keep quiet to pursue a nuclear deal with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader, or heed calls to respond more supportively to the protesters there -- and risk alienating the Shiite cleric.

President Obama and his advisers have struggled to strike the right tone, carefully calibrating positive messages about the protests in an effort to avoid giving the government in Tehran an excuse to portray the demonstrators as pro-American. Nevertheless, the Iranian Foreign Ministry yesterday summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents American interests in Tehran, to complain of "interventionist" comments by U.S. officials, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

In an apt summation of the administration's position, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters yesterday: "We are obviously waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes, but our intent is to pursue whatever opportunities might exist in the future with Iran."

The administration's stance is practical -- the real power in Iran rests with Khamenei, not with whoever is president -- but pressure for a shift in policy will mount if the protests continue to grow and begin to threaten the government's hold on power. Obama already has been criticized -- notably by his Republican presidential rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) -- as abandoning "fundamental principles" of support for human rights.

Khamenei, a former president of Iran who became supreme leader 20 years ago after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, plays a defining behind-the-scenes role in Iran's complex and often opaque political system. His power derives from his support among the armed forces and the clerical establishment that presides over the nation's quasi-theocracy.

Few experts doubt Khamenei would have approved of manipulating election results to ensure President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection or could have the influence to order a new vote, though it is unclear whether recent events have threatened his grip on power internally. If he remains in control, Khamenei's views would be expected to prevail on any key decisions affecting the future of the Islamic republic, especially on the question of whether to deal with the Obama administration.

Mohsen Milani, chairman of the international relations department at the University of South Florida, said it appears that an internal power struggle among the governing elites has burst into the open, combined with images of public discontent. "President Obama has made one very important decision," he said. "He has not taken a position on the internal struggle."

One of Obama's signature pledges during last year's campaign was to reach out to the Islamic republic and seek to end three decades of estrangement between the two countries. A central objective is to dissuade Iran from attempts to build a nuclear weapon, a development that Western nations argue would destabilize the Middle East. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is purely for civilian uses.

With a televised Persian New Year's greeting to Iran's leaders in March, Obama effectively recognized the current ruling structure and took regime change out of the equation. Administration officials had planned to seek a dialogue, preferably with officials close to Khamenei, after Iran's presidential vote.

Now those ambitions are on hold, awaiting the outcome of the disputed election. But Obama has made clear that he assumes the results, for now, will not change his approach to the nation.

"Although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual positions may not be as great as has been advertised," Obama told CNBC on Tuesday. "We've got long-term interests in having them not weaponize nuclear power and stop funding organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. And that would be true whoever came out on top in this election."

Obama's statement has struck some commentators as insulting to the huge demonstrations in support of challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi. McCain, appearing on CNN yesterday, said he was "frankly incredulous" about Obama's comment. "To say there's not a bit of difference between the two candidates is beside the point," he said. "The Iranian people, obviously, think there's some difference, or tens or hundreds of thousands of them wouldn't be in the streets."

But Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, said of Obama's remark: "It is coldblooded, but it is also hard-headed. It is important not to get romantic about the idea of an Iranian moderate."

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to explain the administration's thinking, said U.S. officials want to "keep faith" with the demonstrators, letting the government know "the world is watching," to avoid a bloody denouement. But he said the odds are slim that Khamenei will somehow lose power. "We can't lose sight of the fact that they are enriching uranium every day," he said. "They were a threat before the election. They are a threat today, and the clock keeps ticking."

Too much overt U.S. support for the demonstrators, he said, may feed Iranian suspicions about a U.S. desire for regime change and make Iran's leaders less likely to agree to restraints on the nuclear program. "It is easy to say you ought to talk tough," the official said. "But before you do that, you have to ask yourself: What is the effect of having done that? Will it change their behavior or not?"

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said she has no complaints about Obama's rhetoric. "What happens in Iran regards the people themselves, and it is up to them to make their voices heard," she said in a telephone interview from Geneva. "I respect his comments on all the events in Iran, but I think it is sufficient."

IRAN..."Death to the Dictator!" Mousavi supporters gather for Iran rebellion

A silent sea of black-clad mourners made its way through the streets of Tehran this afternoon, commemorating the lives of those slain in six straight days of protests since the announcement of President Ahmedinajad’s election victory.

The scenes recalled the mass mourning protests of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets to play their part in the overthrow of the American-backed Shah.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched silently until they reached Iman Khomeini square, the huge plaza named for the founder of the revolution, where they were joined by Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated opposition candidate.

The crowd broke into chants, shouting “Death to the Dictator!” and “where are our votes?” as Mr Mousavi addressed them, repeating his calls for a fresh ballot to replace a result widely seen as fraudulent.

At least seven people were killed in violence that erupted during Monday’s massive protest, when militiamen attacked and opened fire on protestors demanding that their “stolen” votes be counted. But persistent reports indicate that more may have been killed in both Tehran and Shiraz and buried quickly without official recording.

Protestors dressed in black for mourning - a change from the usual green worn by Mousavi supporters - and carried placards remembering the dead. “We have not had people killed to compromise and accept a doctored ballot box” read one; another “My martyred brother, I will get back your vote."

Some protesters carried pictures of footballers from Iran’s national team wearing green wrist-bands in their World Cup qualifier against South Korea last night. Passing motorists sounded their horns in support as the marchers stopped to let them pass.

The march and rally took place despite a ban issued by the Interior Ministry, which backs the hardline incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who claimed victory in the polls with 63 per cent of the ballot. That figure is widely believed to have been doctored, with official results showing Mr Mousavi heavily defeated in his own hometown and also in Tehran, where his support is at it highest.

Mr Mousavi, who claimed he was the real victor, has dismissed the June 12 election as a “shameful fraud” and called for a re-run, with the backing of reformists, including some powerful clerics. Many protesters carried white flowers and placards reading: “We cried for Gaza, who cries for us?”

The fourth consecutive day of protests came in open defiance of Iran’s supreme leader, who has urged the people to pursue their complaints within the limits of the cleric-led system.

In a bid to ward off further protests, Iran’s Guardian Council invited Mr Mousavi and two other opposition candidates to a meeting on Saturday to discuss their grievances.

The unelected body of 12 clerics and Islamic law experts close to Ayatollah Khamenei said it was prepared to conduct a limited recount of ballots at sites where candidates claim irregularities. Mr Mousavi, however, has demanded an independent investigation and a new election, charging that the Council is too close to Mr Ahmadinejad to be trusted with the task.

The Council has received a total of 646 complaints from the three candidates, raising the possibility that even a limited recount could turn into a far larger and messier exercise than the government intended.

The crisis presents one of the gravest threats to Iran’s complex blend of democracy and religious authority since the system emerged out of the Islamic revolution that brought down Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The ruling clerics still command deep public support and are defended by Iran’s most powerful military force - the Revolutionary Guard - as well as a vast network of militias.

But Mr Mousavi’s movement has forced Ayatollah Khamenei into the centre of the escalating crisis, questioning his role as the final authority on all critical issues.

Jolie, Pitt give $1 million for Pakistan refugees

LOS ANGELES - Celebrity couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt donated $1 million to a U.N. refugee agency to help Pakistanis displaced by fighting between troops and Taliban militants, the agency said on Thursday.

Jolie, the star of 2008 movies "Changeling" and "Wanted," has visited Pakistan three times to witness United Nations relief operations since becoming a "goodwill ambassador" for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2001.

The agency said it was grateful for the donation from Pitt and Jolie, and added that more than 2 million people in Pakistan had been uprooted this year as a result of the conflict in the northwest part of the country.

Most Pakistanis forced from their homes are living in government buildings or with host families, but 260,000 of them are in camps run by UNHCR, the agency said.

The Hollywood power couple, who gave the $1 million through their Jolie-Pitt Foundation, donated $2 million in September to help children in Ethiopia stricken by disease.

Islamabad resembles battle zone

ISLAMABAD — Agitated commuters queue up every morning rush hour on Islamabad's wide avenues, their cars snaking back from security checkposts manned by heavily-armed police and paramilitary forces.
Pakistan's capital of manicured lawns, stately houses and imposing government buildings is increasingly resembling a war zone as the Taliban take their battle to the cities, with a wave of devastating attacks in recent weeks.
Blast walls have swallowed UN buildings, embassies and ambassadors' homes. To enter the Serena Hotel, one of Islamabad's two five-star hotels, visitors must navigate four security barriers manned by jittery guards.
Dozens of new police checkposts have been set up on Islamabad's main highways and streets inside the city after authorities issued orders to beef up security, taking it to unprecedented levels, residents say.
"We can't cross even a street to the other side without going through stiff checks," complained Hassan Khan, a local businessman.
The capital is about 250 kilometres (155 miles) southeast of Swat valley, where the army is locked in a seven-week offensive against the Taliban, enraging militants who have carried out a series of revenge attacks.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan movement led by feared warlord Baitullah Mehsud has threatened more strikes on key installations in Pakistan's urban centres, putting everyone on edge.
Clad in a bullet-proof jacket and finger on the trigger of his submachine gun, elite commando police constable Sajid Abbas eyes every passing vehicle.
"This is our duty to safeguard this homeland from the terrorists and we are proud to serve our nation," said a bullish Abbas, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the logo "No Fear" on the back.
About 134 people have been killed in suicide attacks and bombings in the capital since government forces fought gunmen holed up in the radical Islamabad Red Mosque in July 2007. Nationwide, 1,995 people have been killed in attacks.
Past targets have included Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, the Danish embassy, an Italian restaurant and police checkposts and buildings.
In the latest attack in the capital, a suicide bomber walked up to a police building on June 6 in a residential district home to many government officials and detonated explosives strapped to his body, killing two policemen.
Pakistani police on Wednesday arrested three men suspected of planning a suicide attack near Islamabad and seized explosives and suicide jackets, while four other suspects have been held in the capital in the past three weeks.
Now, vehicles have to crawl through concrete barriers manned by up to seven police -- some hunkered down behind sandbags -- as security forces peer into the cars, waving some through but pulling other nervous drivers over.
"We are keeping an eye on every vehicle with thorough checking of suspected persons," said Sub Inspector Muhammad Siddque, stationed on the Islamabad Highway, one of the main entry points from adjacent Rawalpindi city.
Tahir Alam, senior superintendent of Islamabad police, said that there were now 70 security checkposts throughout the capital.
But some worry about the increasingly sophisticated tactics of the militants, who have recently been able to penetrate past tough security and cause massive devastation to high-profile targets.
On June 9, three militants shot their way past the security barriers at the five-star Pearl Continental hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar, ramming a explosives-packed truck into the building, killing nine people.
"The terrorists come suddenly and attack with modern ammunition, which we lack. This is our weak point," said Zia, a policeman stationed on the Kashmir Highway, glancing nervously around him.
"I heard our government has imported new bullet-proof jackets, but I don?t know when I will get one."

Jetliner lands safely after pilot dies

(CNN) -- Continental Flight 61, whose pilot died Thursday while flying from Brussels, Belgium, to Newark, New Jersey, has landed safely, the Federal Aviation Administration and Continental Airlines said.

The Boeing 777 landed at Newark International Airport at 11:49 a.m. ET Thursday, the airline said, after the 60-year-old Newark-based pilot died "apparently of natural causes."

The airline said the crew on the flight included an additional relief pilot who took the place of the deceased man, and "the flight continued safely with two pilots at the controls."

Asked whether the plane's 247 passengers had been told of the situation, a Continental spokesman said only that the plane had arrived safely.

Passengers told CNN that they were not told, and only that an announcement for a doctor was made during the flight.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, said the FAA told Newark airport officials to have emergency crews standing by for the landing.

The plane landed without any problem, he said, and a medical examiner met the plane to help handle the situation.

The pilot had 32 years of service with Continental, the airline said.

Iranian Opposition Urges Day of Mourning and Protest

New York Times
TEHRAN — Iranians challenging the results of last week’s election prepared for a day of mourning Thursday after renewed protests brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Tehran and human rights groups accused the authorities of rounding up prominent figures including a former foreign minister.

Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main opposition candidate in last Friday’s disputed election, urged his followers on Wednesday to visit mosques and parade on the streets on Thursday. The call seemed designed to maintain the momentum of protests that began almost as soon as the election results were announced on Saturday and ballooned this week into mass demonstrations.

At least seven people were reported killed in the first day of mass protests on Monday. Student activists say seven more people have died since then in attacks by government militia on student dormitories in Tehran and the southern city of Shiraz.

In the unfolding battle of wills, the government worked on many fronts to disrupt the outside world’s view of the unrest, banning coverage of the demonstrations, arresting journalists, threatening bloggers and trying to block Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have become vital outlets for information about the confrontation.

The senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan, where there have also been tense demonstrations, went so far as to say protesters could be executed under Islamic law.

According to news reports and a human rights activist group, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the latest detainees include Ibrahim Yazdi, a former foreign minister who leads on organization called Freedom Movement. According to the rights group, he was arrested at a hospital in Tehran while undergoing treatment on Wednesday.

The arrest was reported after other people were detained, including Mohammad Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist and university professor. He was arrested at Tehran airport while trying to leave the country with his wife, news reports said.

Amnesty International issued a tally of detentions, saying 17 people including some associated with the Freedom Movement, had been detained in the northwestern city of Tabriz. “Among those arrested was Dr. Ghaffari Farzadi, a leading member of the Iran Freedom Movement and a lecturer at Tabriz University,” Amnesty International said on its Web site, adding that students appeared to have been “particularly targeted.”

As nations around the world urged Iran’s leadership to exercise restraint, Mr. Moussavi, who the government said finished second in the election, and one of Iran’s chief reformers, former President Mohammad Khatami, issued a joint letter urging an end to violence and arrests.

“We ask you to take all the necessary measures to put an end to today’s worrying situation, to stop the violent actions against people and to free those arrested,” they wrote in a letter on Mr. Moussavi’s Web site.

The crisis — the gravest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 — erupted after the Interior Ministry declared that the moderate Mr. Moussavi was defeated by the conservative incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Friday’s election by 63 percent to 34 percent. Mr. Moussavi, the demonstrators who represent a cross section of Iranian society and part of the clerical establishment have called the official results a fraud.

With the nation’s ruling class apparently divided by the results, the hard-liners in charge sought to portray the unrest as the work of outsiders. The powerful Revolutionary Guard said it had taken action against “deviant news sites” financed by American and Canadian companies.

The Foreign Ministry, meantime, summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents American interests in Tehran, in protest of what it called “meddling” by the United States into its affairs because of statements by American officials on Iran’s elections. The Swiss Foreign Ministry in Berne, Switzerland, declined to discuss what was said at the meeting.

The Iranian authorities also summoned the Canadian chargé d’affaires over the same accusations. Several other European ambassadors were summoned Tuesday.

America and Iran broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 revolution.

No apparent ground was gained Wednesday in reaching a negotiated solution.

This week, Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on state matters and who certified Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election, apparently made two concessions, ordering an investigation into the election and calling for a partial recount.

But Mr. Moussavi and the protesters are rejecting anything less than new elections.

“It is a very complicated situation,” said Abbass Abdi, a political scientist in Tehran. “People feel humiliated because they came and voted in large numbers. On the other hand, it is very difficult for the establishment to admit fraud because its legitimacy would go under question.

“There is no legal solution to this dilemma and, we need a solution that neither side would lose face.”

For the third day in a row on Wednesday, supporters of Mr. Moussavi massed in silence, from Hafteh Tir Square, with photographs and samizdat video showing a sea of people at least tens of thousands strong. Many protesters wore black to honor those slain in recent days, a witness said. Some carried flowers and wore green ribbons to show their support for Mr. Moussavi.

“We are becoming stronger,” said Abolfazl, 36, a cab driver. “The only way we can win is to stick together and keep coming back.”

Mostafa, 26, a businessman, who had gone to the rally on the back of a friend’s motorcycle, said he did not fear the violent clashes that killed protesters. “The student protests failed because people left the students alone,” he said, referring to the student protests in 1999 and 2003. “This time they cannot defeat us because everybody has joined.”

Surprise support for the protesters came from members of Iran’s soccer team, with several wearing the bright green ribbons, now the signature for Mr. Moussavi’s supporters, during a game with South Korea.

The national football team is controlled by the government, and their defiance demonstrated the deepening divide.

It was unclear whether clashes erupted between security forces and protesters later Wednesday evening, as has happened during other protests this week.

The government had announced that seven people were killed Monday and 15 others were injured after a Basij militia, loyal to Mr. Ahmadinejad, opened fire on people. On Wednesday, a student group, the Office for Consolidating Unity, said in a statement on its Web site that five students were killed in an attack on a Tehran University dormitory and two other students were killed in a separate attack at the dormitory in the southern city of Shiraz.

Iran’s Interior Ministry on Thursday ordered an investigation into the episode at Tehran University, which has been widely denounced inside Iran.

Meanwhile, the government expanded its crackdown with more arrests and pressure against journalists to limit coverage of the protests.

Saeed Leylaz, an economist and political analyst, was arrested Wednesday at his home. Reporters Without Borders said that at least 11 Iranian journalists had been arrested.

Because of continued intimidation and pressure on journalists, at least one newspaper, Khabar, said Wednesday that it would stop publishing. A representative from the office of the prosecutor general in Tehran on Friday began screening newspapers before publication to block what it called “provocative” material.

In an effort that appeared to limit reporters’ access, foreign news outlets were warned by the Ministry of Culture not to “participate in or cover” the rallies because the ministry said it “had received specific threats against reporters.” One photographer, Amin Kiani, was stabbed at a protest on Tuesday. The ministry expanded its restriction on Wednesday to covering any news conferences linked to Mr. Moussavi.

News agencies reported that Mohammadreza Habibi, the senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be executed under Islamic law.

“We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution,” Mr. Habibi said, according to the Fars news agency.

Peshawar airport shut down amid terror threats

Authorities have closed the International Airport in the provincial capital Peshawar amid threats of possible terrorist attacks against civilian flights.

"The authorities have been directed by the provincial government there to shut down the Peshawar airport after an intelligence report warning of possible terror attacks by militants," Zahid Khan, a senior lawmaker of ruling Awami National Party (ANP) told Press TV on Wednesday.

The closure followed a threat of attacks on passenger aircraft from the pro-Taliban militants who have been launching bombing attacks across Pakistan to put an end to the ongoing military operation in the violent northwest.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban in Darra Adamkhel, led by a former Lashkar-e-Jhangvi member, had set a Monday deadline for the military to halt its attack.

Instead, Islamabad evacuated domestic and international departure lounges of the airport and a contingent of security forces was deployed to guard the airport.

The Civil Aviation Authority issued a notice on Wednesday, advising all national and international airlines to cancel their flights to Peshawar International Airport until further notification. It asked the carriers to divert their flights to Islamabad.

On Wednesday, military officials said dozens of militants -- including a top commander -- were killed in clashes in Malakand and 17 others were arrested in the northwestern region.

In Galgut area in the state of Dir, security forces killed 20 terrorists and seized a cache of arms and ammunition.

The military also kept pounding militant hideouts in Sentaga, Wali Noor, and Khujdarkhel areas in Banuu, killing at least 10 pro-Taliban insurgents.

Pakistan has seen a fresh spate of terror attacks and deaths of scores of people in bombings since the military began its anti-Taliban campaign in the northwestern Swat valley in April 26.

At least 8 killed, several injured as US drones fired missiles in South Waziristan

Suspected US missile strikes pounded the hide-outs of a Taliban commander in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least eight people, government officials said. Shahab Ali Shah, the top administrative official in the South Waziristan tribal area along the Afghanistan border, said the missiles hit close to the villages of Gharlamai and Nandaran, about six miles (10 kilometers) west of the Wana bazaar area. He said the death toll could rise as villagers dig through the rubble. Two Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to media, said a training center of Taliban commander Malang Wazir between the two villages was the target and that nine people were killed. Two other intelligence officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said four missiles were fired at two sites. They put the casualties at eight dead and about two dozen wounded. Ali Khan Wazir, a shopkeeper, said drone aircraft had been flying over the area for hours before the explosions. He said Taliban vehicles were seen rushing to the scenes. U.S. missiles fired from unmanned drones have repeatedly struck South Waziristan, most recently on Sunday after nearly a one-month lull. The strikes have generated a backlash over civilian casualties. Wednesday's strikes come as the Pakistani military has started pounding militant targets in the area with airstrikes. The highly anticipated operation is seen as a potential turning point in the yearslong and sometimes halfhearted fight against militancy in Pakistan. It could also help curb Taliban attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan. But while Washington has been pushing for the offensive, on the heels of a similar operation in the Swat Valley, fighting in the lawless tribal region will likely be the toughest yet for Pakistan's military, testing both its combat capability and the government's will to see it through. The Swat offensive has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks by militants across Pakistan that have been blamed on Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose base is in South Waziristan. More than 100 people have died since late May in suicide bombings on targets including police and security buildings, mosques and a hotel catering to foreigners. The attacks have fueled anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan that in turn has emboldened the politically weak government of President Asif Ali Zardari.