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Ayatollah backs poll outcome

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called for an end to street protests over last week’s disputed presidential election, siding with declared winner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Making his first public appearance after daily protests over the official results, Khamenei ruled out any major fraud in the conduct of the poll and warned that the defeated candidates would be held to account over any renewed violence on the streets.

“The people have chosen whom they wanted,” the supreme leader said in his sermon on Friday at the main weekly prayers in Tehran, which was broadcast live across the nation after a week of unrest that has unnerved the regime.

“I see some people more suitable for serving the country than others but the people made their choice,” he said to cheers from the massed ranks of the faithful who included the victorious hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“What I want was not told to the people — the president’s opinion is closer to my opinion.”

Khamenei insisted that despite the 646 complaints of poll violations registered by the three defeated candidates with electoral watchdog the Guardians Council, there could be no doubting Ahmadinejad’s re-election to a second four-year term given his margin of victory.

“The legal mechanisms in our country do not allow cheating. How can one cheat with a margin of 11 million votes?” he asked.

The supreme leader demanded that the street protests that have rocked the capital for the past week now cease, warning that otherwise there risked being further bloodshed beyond the seven deaths reported by state radio so far.

“I want to tell everyone these things must finish. These street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders but we will not bow in front of them,” he said.

“Those politicians who somehow have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner,” the supreme leader warned.

“This extremism will reach a sensitive level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos.”

The opposition has been planning a new mass rally in Tehran on Saturday, to be addressed by the Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger, moderate former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi.

There was no immediate word from the reformist clerical association which is organising the rally on whether they still planned to go ahead.

Another of the defeated candidates, reformist former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, had urged his supporters to stay away from the Tehran prayers addressed by the supreme leader and instead join Saturday’s rally.

Unlike the rallies held by the opposition, foreign media were allowed to cover Friday’s prayers.

Khamenei’s sermon came after Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger told the latest mass protest by his supporters on Thursday that their gripe was only with the election results not the regime itself.

Speaking through a loudhailer, Mousavi reiterated his demand for a re-run of the election, which he has denounced as a “shameful fraud”.

“We have come to obtain our rights. We only want our votes,” he said, according to his newspaper website Kalemeh.ir. “We will make any sacrifice to protect the system.”

The three defeated candidates — Karroubi and conservative ex-Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai as well as Mousavi — have been invited to set out their grievances before electoral watchdog, the Guardians Council, on Saturday.

The council has said it will make its decision on Sunday on any recount.

Rezai told state television that official turnout was as high as 140 per cent in some constituencies during last week’s vote.

“When I submit (the list for) 170 constituencies where participation reached between 95 and 140 per cent are these generalities or does this need to be examined?” he asked.

World powers have raised concern about the violence and widespread arrests, with EU leaders set to condemn their use against protesters.

“The European Union is observing the response to the protests across Iran with serious concern,” said the statement to be agreed by the European leaders at a two-day Brussels summit.

“It strongly condemns the use of violence against protesters resulting in the deaths of several people,” continues the text, seen by AFP.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay also expressed concern.

In the face of the regime’s biggest crisis since the 1979 revolution overthrew the pro-Western shah, Iran’s Islamic rulers have repeatedly lashed out at “meddling” by foreign powers.

Khamenei on Friday renewed the charge, singling out Britain for particular criticism.

“Today, top diplomats of several Western countries who talked to us so far within diplomatic formalities are showing their real face and most of all, the British government,” he said.

Western governments have repeatedly insisted that they are not trying to interfere in the Iranian election, merely to defend universal rights of peaceful protest.

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