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In Iran, Government Supporters Turn Out as Election Protests Continue

June 16, 2009 at 6:00 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: The political pressure built in Iran today, as thousands of people rallied to support the government. Protesters also turned out again, insisting the presidential election was stolen.

And the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, agreed to a partial review of ballots. He also appealed for unity, and he said, “In the elections, voters had different tendencies, but they equally believe in the ruling system and support the Islamic republic.”

Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News begins our lead story coverage.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Reclaiming the streets. President Ahmadinejad’s supporters massed in central Tehran today. The pictures were shown on state television.

Foreign journalists have been banned from filming. This is a country where you take such restrictions seriously.

The opposition were also out. Fearing clashes with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s followers or attacks by the police, opposition leaders, including the presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, had advised their people to stay at home.

Last night’s violence has shocked many. It’s now a little clearer what happened. The government says seven people were killed and 29 injured.

Opposition supporters I’ve spoken to believe the clashes were provoked by government agents, but today several leading reformists were arrested, accused of orchestrating violence.

GHOLAM-HOSSEIN MOHSENI EJEI, intelligence minister (through translator): More than 25 to 26 of the provocative agents behind the recent unrest have been arrested, and I am telling the rest of them that their actions are not secret from the intelligence minister. If from now on they take to the streets during the night and cause problems for people and the country, they will not only be arrested, but their identities will be made public.

Considering a partial recount

LINDSEY HILSUM: Amongst those arrested, Mohammed Abtahi, in the black turban, a leading reformist and former vice president whom we filmed yesterday as he prepared for the opposition rally.

But four days after the election, the authorities have now made a concession to the candidates who complained that the poll was rigged: The Guardian Council has said it will consider a partial recount, but not the annulment of the election the opposition is demanding.

AHMED JANNATI, head of the Guardian Council (through translator): This is our legal duty based on the law. The Guardian Council is obliged to investigate any possible claim after each election.

LINDSEY HILSUM: One of Mr. Mousavi's election monitors suggested that might not be enough.

ALI AKBAR MOHTASHAMIPOUR, spokesman for Mir Hossein Mousavi (through translator): If everyone becomes aware, avoids violent measures, and continues their civil confrontation, they will win. No power can stand up to the people's will. I do not think the Guardian Council will have the courage to stand against people.

LINDSEY HILSUM: President Ahmadinejad meanwhile is in Russia for a meeting of the Shanghai Corporation Organization.

Today he met the Russian president, who congratulated him on his win. He's trying to give the impression that nothing is wrong in Iran, reiterating his old themes that all the evils of the world have their root in America.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, president of Iran (through translator): America is consumed by economic and political crises, and there is no hope for an immediate resolution to these issues. Allies of the U.S. are also not in a position to sort out these problems, and this bears witness to the fact that international mechanisms based around imperial ambitions are surrendering their position in the world.

Obama reacts to elections

LINDSEY HILSUM: Today's rally tilts the balance in his favor again. The opposition is unlikely to be satisfied with a few votes being recounted, but they seem undecided about their next move, knowing that more mass protests mean more deaths.

JIM LEHRER: In Washington, President Obama said again the U.S. must be cautious in how it reacts to the events in Iran, but he also voiced hope for change.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You've seen in Iran some initial reaction from the supreme leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election.

It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling -- the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.

I do believe that something has happened in Iran where there is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures towards the international community that have taken place in the past.