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Iran opposition leaders request OK to commemorate dead

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Iran opposition leaders request OK to commemorate dead

Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi and a fellow presidential candidate are requesting a permit to hold a commemoration ceremony for those killed in the fallout after the June 12 elections, according to a post on Moussavi’s Web site Sunday.

At least 20 protesters were killed and more than 1,000 were arrested in Tehran in the first few days after the election, according to human rights groups.

Moussavi, a reformist and chief rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and fellow candidate Mehdi Karrubi sent the letter requesting a permit for the ceremony to the Islamic republic’s interior minister, according to Moussavi’s Ghalam News Web site.

The candidates want to hold the ceremony on Thursday at the site for Friday prayers, saying the date would signify the 40th day after the chaotic street demonstrations. For Iranians, a predominantly Shiite Muslim population, the 40th day marks the last official day of mourning in the immediate aftermath of a death.

The letter indicates that there will be no speeches at the proposed ceremony — only recitations from the Quran. Those who attend would be asked to pay their respects to the dead protesters by remaining silent, the letter says

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Iran’s opposition asks to mourn iconic victim

Iran Global Protest

Iran’s opposition asks to mourn iconic victim

Iran’s opposition leader asked authorities Sunday for permission to hold a memorial service for victims of last month’s post-election unrest, including a young woman whose death was caught on video and became a symbol for protesters.

Iranian authorities have pressured the families of slain protesters not to mourn publicly out of fear the gatherings could spark the kind of demonstrations that followed the June 12 presidential vote, according to the opposition.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and fellow pro-reform presidential candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, sent a request to the Interior Ministry to hold a memorial service in Tehran’s Mosalla mosque Thursday to commemorate the end of the 40-day mourning cycle for at least 10 people killed on June 20, Mousavi’s top aide Ali Reza Beheshti told the Associated Press.

Hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters took to the streets following the election to protest hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed victory. Iranian security forces cracked down violently, and at least 20 protesters were killed during the unrest, according to police. Rights groups believe the number could be far greater.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say over all state matters, has demanded the opposition drop its claims that the election was marred by massive vote fraud. But Mousavi and his supporters have kept up the pressure by criticizing the state’s harsh response and reaching out to top clerics for support.

One of those killed on June 20 was Neda Agha Soltan, a 27-year-old woman shot to death on the sidelines of a Tehran demonstration. Her dying moments on the street were caught on a video viewed by millions on YouTube, and she became an icon in the opposition’s struggle.

Mousavi and Karroubi attempted to assuage concerns that the requested memorial would spark additional unrest, saying it “will be held without any speeches and will be limited to the reciting of the Quran (the Muslim holy book) and moments of silence.”

The government’s concern about unrest has historical precedence. The deaths of protesters during the 1979 Islamic Revolution fueled a 40-day cycle of mourning marches, and shootings of mourners, that contributed to the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Authorities allowed a close ally of conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei to hold a funeral in Tehran on Friday for his son, who was arrested during a protest on July 9, the pro-reform norooznews.org Web site reported. He was taken to a hospital two weeks later where he died from his injuries hours after being admitted, it said.

Rouhalmini’s father, Abdul-Hossein, had scheduled to hold a memorial for his son Sunday but canceled the ceremony at the last minute without elaborating, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. The Etemad-e-Melli newspaper reported earlier Sunday that Mousavi and Karroubi would attend the memorial, possibly raising fears it would turn into a demonstration.

A group of nearly 50 Mousavi supporters showed up at the site of Rouhalmini’s planned memorial Sunday to protest against the government’s crackdown on the opposition, said eyewitnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Many Iranian policemen were also at the scene, they said.

Dozens of protesters gathered in north Tehran on Saturday and chanted “death to the dictator” and “we want our vote back” before they were attacked and beaten by police and the Basij.

Police arrested “a few” of the protesters after the demonstration, Mehr quoted deputy police chief, Col. Mohsen Khancherli, as saying Sunday.

Witnesses told the AP that Saturday’s demonstration was carried out in solidarity with people around the world who held coordinated protests to pressure Iran to end its violent crackdown on the opposition and release hundreds of people who are still being detained.

Also Saturday, 69 prominent opposition leaders, including Mousavi and Karroubi, appealed to top clerics in the holy city of Qom to help stop the government’s violent post-election crackdown — reaching out to the one group that could go head-to-head with the country’s supreme leader.


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Cabinet approval lets Iran focus on nuclear issue

Mahmoud_Ahmadinejad

Cabinet approval lets Iran focus on nuclear issue

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EHRAN – Iran’s parliament approved most of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet ministers, including the first woman, on Thursday, bolstering the hardline president as he deals with an international dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

In addition to the Islamic Republic’s first female minister, the assembly backed a relative novice as oil minister and installed as defence minister a man wanted by Argentina for an attack on a Jewish centre in 1994.

“All those who act against Iran will face the iron fist of the Iranian government, nation and armed forces,” Ahmad Vahidi, the new defence minister, said. Like several other ministers, he has a background with the elite Revolutionary Guards, whose influence appears to have grown since Ahmadinejad came to power.

Vahidi’s nomination as defence minister has been condemned by Argentina, which accuses him of involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre that killed 85 people. Tehran has repeatedly denied any link to the attack.

“Death to Israel,” lawmakers chanted after Vahidi received the highest number of votes in favour of all nominees, 227.

Deputies rejected three of the 21 new ministers Ahmadinejad proposed following his disputed re-election in June.

But that signalled only a limited setback for the president, who had four of his first-choice nominees vetoed by the legislature four years ago. His new government will hold its first meeting on Sunday, state radio reported.

“Ahmadinejad is able to have a cabinet that is working and do what he wants to put into practice,” said Baqer Moin, a London-based Iran analyst.

The presidential election was followed by huge opposition protests, plunging Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It exposed deepening establishment rifts and further strained ties with the West.

The legislature is dominated by conservatives, but some of Ahmadinejad’s supporters have abandoned him since the poll.

The moderate opposition says the election was rigged in his favour and regard the new government as illegitimate. The authorities deny the June 12 vote was fraudulent.

Crucially for Ahmadinejad, heavyweight nominees such as the intelligence, defence, interior, oil, economy and foreign ministers were all confirmed by parliament. The three rejected were the proposed energy, welfare and education ministers, including two of his three women nominees.

Activists have described the proposed female ministers as conservatives who have not promoted women’s rights in the past.

NUCLEAR DEFIANCE

Ahmadinejad said a “new era of constructive cooperation” had started between the government and parliament, which at times had a stormy relationship during his first four-year term.

He has already signalled tougher foreign policies ahead, after Tehran accused its Western foes of inciting the post-election protests. The opposition says 72 people were killed in the unrest, more than double the official estimate.

Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi received the lowest support of the approved ministers. Crude sales account for most state revenue in Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter.

Like several other nominees, the former commerce minister had been criticised for alleged lack of experience. He faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, imposed because of a row over Iran’s nuclear work.

The West suspects Iran of trying to build nuclear bombs while Iran says its programme is for peaceful power generation.

Analyst Moin said he had heard the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority and in charge of the nuclear issue, had contacted lawmakers before Thursday’s vote.

“His bigger fight is the nuclear issue and if he is seen as being weak internally he will have more problems with that as well. So he has put all his efforts into convincing the conservatives … that we need to show unity both for internal and external reasons,” Moin said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has given Iran until later in September to take up an offer of international talks on trade if it shelves nuclear enrichment or face harsher penalties.

Ahmadinejad dismissed any threat of new sanctions against Iran, a day after six world powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France and Germany — pressed Tehran to meet them this month for talks on the nuclear dispute.

“No one can impose any sanctions on Iran any longer,” he told reporters at parliament, according to IRNA news agency.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was quoted by state television this week as saying Iran was ready to talk to the major powers and that Tehran had prepared “an updated nuclear proposal” that would be presented soon.

But another senior official suggested that any such discussions would not address Iran’s nuclear work, but instead focus on unspecified international and regional issues.

Ali Ansari of the University of St Andrews in Scotland said he was not surprised by the outcome of parliament’s vote as hardliners control most official levers of power in Iran.

“I think Iran is operating on two levels at the moment, a surreal government structure trying to project an air of business as usual and a growing disenfranchised and angry majority,” Ansari said.

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