Protesting election will achieve nothing, warns Ahmadinejad

The newly re-elected Iranian president dismisses vote-rigging claims as the streets turn violent.

Thousands of supporters of Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (portraits) wave national flags during a massive rally to celebrate his victory in the presidential elections in Tehran's Valiasr square.
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TEHRAN // Iran's newly re-elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday insisted Friday's elections were free and fair and said his rivals' protests resembled the angry outbursts of football fans after their teams are defeated. But defeated presidential contender Mir Hossein Mousavi called for the election result to be thrown out, as his supporters protested for the second day in downtown Tehran.

Mr Ahmadinejad, speaking at his first press conference since the election results were announced on Saturday, told reporters that questioning the results and staging protests would be a waste of time. "[Their claims] lack legal value and create a problem. [The elections] are like football matches after which emotions run high," Mr Ahmadinejad said. Following the press conference Mr Ahmadinejad addressed thousands of supporters at Tehran's Vali Asr Square to celebrate his victory.

"Elections in Iran are the cleanest," he told the crowd. "Today, we should appreciate the great triumph of the people of Iran against the unified front of all the world arrogance [the West] and the psychological war launched by the enemy." As Mr Ahmadinejad was celebrating his victory, opposition voters who believe the election was rigged engaged in running battles with security forces and clashes with Ahmadinejad supporters throughout streets of Tehran.

Police fired canisters of tear gas for the second day in a row to disperse the protesters, who set overturned rubbish bins alight and tore down traffic signs. They chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) and slogans against Mr Ahmadinejad and in support of Mr Mousavi from streets, balconies and rooftops across the city while cars honked their horns.

Protests have also been reported in several other cities since Saturday, including Tabriz and Isfahan. All of the opposition candidates called on their supporters to keep calm. In a statement partly quoted by the Iranian Students News Agency Mr Mousavi called on his supporters not to expose themselves to harm and asked them to avoid any violent action. "I again advise you to continue the civil and legal opposition throughout the country peacefully and in a non-confrontational manner," he said.

He did, however, say he had sought permission to hold rallies today, calling on his supporters to turn out in green, his signature colour. Mr Mousavi who on Friday evening declared himself the "absolute winner" in the elections has also called on the security forces to show restraint and understanding for the "feelings of the people". More than 170 protesters have reportedly been arrested. According to Gen Ahmadreza Radan, acting chief of Police in Tehran, 110 protesters, 50 "organised rioters" and at least ten of the organisers of the protests had been arrested in Tehran by midday yesterday, ISNA reported.

Gen Radan said more arrests of were likely. Official results gave Mr Ahmadinejad 63 per cent of the vote against just 34 per cent for Mr Mousavi, despite predictions the latter was set for a possible landslide victory. The election results dashed western hopes of change after Mr Ahmadinejad's first term set Iran on a collision course with the international community over its nuclear drive, his anti-Israeli tirades and restrictions on society.

Western nations have raised concerns about the legitimacy of the vote and the subsequent clamp down on dissidents and protesters. US Vice President Joe Biden said there was "an awful lot of doubt" about the vote, while European nations voiced concern at what Germany called "unacceptable" action by security forces against protesters. The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, one of the European Union's strongest advocates for dialogue with Iran, said he was concerned about the Islamic republic's disputed presidential election.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that Mr Frattini "expresses hope that the results of the vote fully respect the will of the Iranian people and that the situation does not degenerate into new violence". In his statement, Mr Mousavi said he had formally requested the results of the election be annulled. "I submitted my request today to the Guardians Council to cancel the results of the election," he said, referring to the 12-member body that supervises elections in Iran.

He said throwing out the results was the only way to "retain public trust and support for the government". On Saturday he had said the legitimacy of the state was at stake. Mehdi Karrubi and Mohsen Rezai, the two other contenders in Friday's race, have also contested the results of the elections. In a statement posted on his National Confidence Party website yesterday, Mr Karrubi, who has called the election procedure a "farce" and said he does not recognise Mr Ahmadinejad as a legitimate president, also called on his supporters to keep their calm.

Mr Karrubi promised to file a petition with the election watchdog to annul the results of the elections. Replying to a letter from one of his disillusioned supporters on Tabnak news portal, Mr Rezai, the only conservative candidate in the race, promised his supporters to take action to safeguard the votes he believes he has been deprived of in the procedure of counting of the votes. The media blackout also continued yesterday.

There were reports that internet and telephone services were being disrupted and the BBC said satellites were jammed and that a journalist and a cameraman had been briefly arrested. Arab news channel Al Arabiya said its Tehran office had been shut down for a week. Two Dutch journalists were also arrested and ordered to leave the country, public broadcaster Nederland 2 said.