Friday, September 18, 2009

I.R. Iran Guards Warn Against Protests During "Qods Day"

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Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards warned the opposition on Thursday against anti-government protests during nationwide "Qods Day" rallies on Friday, saying they would be dealt with "firmly." "This nation's brave children who are in the security bodies and the police, or in the Revolutionary Guards or the Basij (Islamist militia) (are ready) to confront firmly any deviation, and anti-revolutionary ... moves," the Guards said in a statement carried by the state news agency IRNA. Reformist websites have said opposition leaders would attend the rallies, held annually to support the Palestinians, and called on supporters to raise anti-government slogans during the marches. The June presidential election, which was followed by huge opposition protests, plunged Iran into political turmoil and exposed deepening divisions within its ruling elite.

Opposition leaders say the poll was rigged to secure President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. The authorities deny it. Iranian authorities, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have warned the opposition against turning the annual anti-Israel rally into street protests against the clerical establishment. Defeated presidential candidates Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi said they would attend the rally. The late founder of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, declared the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan as the "Qods (Jerusalem) Day" and called for international rallies against Israel and in support of Palestinians. State television said moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who backed the opposition during the post-election unrest, had been replaced with a hardline cleric to lead the prayers sermon at Tehran University on Friday.

For the past 25 years, Rafsanjani, also head of a powerful arbitrary body, had repeatedly led the sermon. State media have said Ahmadinejad would also address worshippers, a move which could provoke supporters of his election rivals to stage protests against the establishment. Rights groups say thousands of people, including senior pro-reform figures, were arrested after the election, though most have been freed. The opposition says more than 70 people died during street protests after the vote. It contradicts the official death toll of 36 people. Hardliners have portrayed the opposition protests as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic government system.