Iranian police have been deployed en masse, bracing for a response to the decision to uphold official results of this month’s fiercely-disputed presidential election.
Tehran continued to hold four locally-recruited British embassy staff for ‘inciting’ protests, while Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi warned that the Group of Eight major powers would consider sanctions against the nation at a summit next week.
State television announced that, after a “thorough and comprehensive investigation,” Iran’s official electoral watchdog had upheld the re-election of hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a vote denounced by his main challenger, former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, as a “shameful fraud”.
The head of the Guardians Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, concluded that “the majority of the objections were not deemed infringements or fraud and were only minor irregularities that occur in each election,” the television reported.
Mousavi’s supporters had boycotted the partial recount of the vote carried out by the council in response to the complaints of the defeated candidates.
The opposition had demanded a complete rerun and has staged massive public demonstrations in a dispute that has shaken the foundations of the Islamic regime, with unprecedented criticism of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
According to the official results, Ahmadinejad won by a thumping majority of 63 percent against just 34 percent for Mousavi, a gap of 11 million votes.
Witnesses said thousands of policemen and Basij militiamen brandishing sticks were deployed in Tehran’s main squares to prevent any recurrence of the opposition protests over the conduct of the election that have broken out since the June 12 poll.
They said security forces were also randomly checking the boots of cars and vehicles, and checking the identification cards of drivers.
Western governments meanwhile expressed outrage at Iran’s continued detention of the four British embassy staffers.
Iran freed five of their colleagues earlier in the day, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown slammed the arrests as “unacceptable” and demanded the immediate release of the other four.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Iran’s treatment of the British embassy staff as “deplorable” and said Washington was following the situation “with great concern.”
Speaking after talks with Brown in London, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso expressed his “full solidarity” with Britain over the arrests.
“Intimidation and harassment are unacceptable and they will be met with a strong collective European response,” he warned.
And the Italian prime minister who will chair the G8 summit from July 8 to 10, said: “Iran will be the first topic that we will deal with.
“According to the telephone conversations I have had with other leaders, I think that we will go in the direction you indicated, namely sanctions.”
Iran has repeatedly accused the West particularly Britain and the United States of “meddling” as its Islamic rulers struggle to contain the most serious upheaval since the revolution 30 years ago.
In the face of a massive crackdown on protesters, the opposition has scaled down its public demonstrations over the election results.
At least 17 people have been killed and many more wounded in clashes with security forces, according to state media.
Ahmadinejad on Monday called for a probe into the death of Neda Agah-Soltan, a woman whose apparent killing by the Islamic militia during a protest rally in Tehran generated an international outcry.
Neda became an icon for the opposition after an Internet video showing her final moments was seen around the world.
On Sunday, riot police in Tehran dispersed about 3,000 Mousavi supporters who had defied a ban on public gatherings, witnesses said, with one reporting a “minor confrontation.”
The information could not be independently verified as foreign media are banned from the streets under tough new restrictions imposed by the authorities.
The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said on Sunday that more than 2,000 people are still in custody and hundreds more missing across Iran as a result of the government crackdown on the opposition.
London-based watchdog Amnesty International said it was gravely concerned that several opposition leaders may be facing torture, possibly to force them to make televised ‘confessions’ as a prelude to unfair trials in which they could face the death penalty.
It expressed particular concern for the well-being of three former officials in the government of Mohammad Khatami, whose 1997-2005 presidency saw a thaw in relations with the West — Mohsen Aminzadeh, Abdollah Ramazanadeh and Mostafa Tajzadeh. end of 2011. (AP