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Iranians’ mass protest ends in bloodshed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Hundreds of thousands of Iranians peacefully protested the announced re-election of the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a June 15 mass rally in Tehran’s Azadia (Freedom) Square. The five-hour gathering, held in spite of a government ban, ended in bloodshed, as members of a paramilitary force loyal to Ahmadinejad opened fire on the protestors. One death was confirmed.

The demonstration was the largest in Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution, with the crowd stretching more than 5.5 miles, according to news agencies’ estimates.

Mir Hossein Moussavi, a reformist candidate who was Ahmadinejad’s most serious competitor in the election, spoke briefly at one edge of the crowd and called for a new election. Moussavi, who reportedly had been under house arrest after the election, said his solution to the crisis was “canceling the result of this disputed election,” the Associated Press reported. “This will have the least cost for our nation. Otherwise, nothing will remain of people’s trust in the government and ruling system.”

Iranian security forces had beaten protestors during weekend riots following government declarations of Ahmadinejad’s landslide re-election June 12, in which voter turnout was estimated at 85 percent. According to official results, Ahmadinejad won nearly 63 percent of the national vote, including 80 percent of the ballots in Mousavi’s own hometown. Critics claimed the election was rigged, pointing out that Ahmadinejad accomplished the unlikely feat of carrying all of Iran’s 30 provinces and in every social and age category.

The results could be doubted because Ahmadinejad was pronounced the winner less than a day after the election, Time magazine reported. Iran uses paper ballots and the country’s Interior Ministry “is supposed to wait three days after voting before it certifies the result to allow time for disputes to be examined,” Time said.

Controversy over the lopsided results revealed rifts among Iran’s ruling clergy. Senior clerics reportedly have met with or written to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking him to intervene, The Wall Street Journal reported. Although Khamenei had congratulated Ahmadinejad on the victory, he ordered an investigation into the fraud allegations.

The election controversy has compromised Ahmadinejad’s ability to govern, said Elliott Abrams, who served in foreign policy roles under U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “These are the largest demonstrations since the fall of the Shah in 1979,” Abrams said, according to The Wall Street Journal. For millions of Iranians, the result “has de-legitimized this regime.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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