Iran opposition leader compares supreme leader to deposed shah after protests

The comments came as the Guardian Council suggested it could be more open when registering candidates for February’s parliamentary election after accusations they it bars moderates

FILE - This Friday, June 12, 2009, file photo, shows Iranian reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi waving to the media during a late night press conference after polls closed in Tehran.  A website long associated with detained opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has quoted him as comparing a crackdown on protesters under Iran’s supreme leader to another carried out under the country’s ousted shah. The comments published Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, represent some of the harshest yet attributed to Mousavi, a 77-year-old politician whose disputed election loss in 2009 led to widespread protests before being put down by security forces. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi has compared Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Shah, the monarch deposed in a 1979 revolution, following the government's crackdown on protests last month.

The unrest began on November 15 after the government of Iran announced petrol price hikes. But the protests quickly turned political, with demonstrators demanding the removal of top leaders.

Khamenei has described the violence as the work of a "very dangerous conspiracy". The Tehran government has blamed "thugs" linked to its opponents in exile and the country's main foreign foes.

Iran has given no official death toll, but Amnesty International has said that at least 161 people have been killed. Tehran has rejected this figure.

Mr Mousavi's comments about Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, were posted in a statement on the opposition Kaleme website. He made a reference to an infamous 1978 massacre which rallied public support and led to the toppling of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

"The killers of the year 1978 were the representatives of a non-religious regime and the agents and shooters of November 2019 are the representatives of a religious government," he said. "Then the commander in chief was the Shah and today, here, the Supreme Leader with absolute authority."

He called on the government to "pay attention to the repercussions of the Jaleh square killings" of 1978.

Mr Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi ran in a presidential election in June 2009 but lost out to hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The two men became figureheads for Iranians who staged mass protests after the vote, which they said was rigged.

Messrs Karroubi, Mousavi and Mousavi's wife Zahra Rahnavard have been under house arrest in Tehran since 2011.

People register as candidates for parliamentary elections set for February 2020, at the interior ministry in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

But a senior Iranian official has suggested may be more open than in the past in approving candidates for a looming parliamentary election.

"We don't consider ourselves immune from criticism. We may also accept that mistakes have been made in the past," said Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee.

"But for the next legislative elections, we are trying to reduce our mistakes and respect the rights of candidates."

Mr Kadkhodaee’s comments came the day before the registration of candidates for the parliamentary election to be held on February 21 began on Sunday.

The Guardian Council, which is under the control of ultra-conservatives, is responsible for organising and monitoring elections in Iran, including vetting candidates.

"If we insist on enforcing the law, we'll be able to satisfy as many candidates as possible," said Mr Kadkhodaee.

In past elections, the council has faced accusations in Iran, particularly by reformists, of barring candidates more on political than constitutional grounds.

In November, President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate conservative, called on the council to stick to the letter of the law in view of the forthcoming election.

At Iran's last parliamentary election in February 2016, the council authorised 6,229 candidates for the 290 seats at stake – just over 51 per cent of those who sought to stand.

In the interview, Mr Kadkhodaee said a higher number of successful candidates should also lead to a "higher participation rate".