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Ebadi Says Iran Opposition Has Evolved, Not Weakened

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi

VIENNA (Reuters) -- Iran's opposition movement has adapted to dire restrictions and is still strong and alive, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi has said, calling for more focus on what she called "extensive" human rights abuses.

Thousands were arrested and at least 30 people killed in the 2009 post-election street protests quashed by authorities. The opposition has said the official results of the vote, which gave President Mahmud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory, were rigged.

Authorities say the vote was the healthiest election in Iran in three decades.

"Violent incidents [against the public] have increased and anyone that is on the street is arrested.... Because of this the demonstrations have taken another form," Ebadi told a panel discussion in Vienna.

"Just because there are less people on the streets does not mean that the movement has weakened, but that the criticism has taken a different form," she said through a translator.

The Iranian activist gave the example of mothers of imprisoned protesters who meet, dressed in black, and display photos of their children.

Opposition supporters have taken more to the Internet, posting photos and videos as another way of making their position heard, she said.

"The more violent acts against the people, the angrier they will become and the government will be weakened," said Ebadi, who left the country before the elections and says she suffered intimidation and threats from the government.

Iran was rebuked at the UN Human Rights Council by 56 countries on June 15 for its crackdown after the presidential election.

Ebadi said the government's decision to prevent families from holding funerals of killed protestors over fears of opposition rallies showed the weakness of the government.

"A government that is scared of a corpse is a weak government," she said.

She also said the opposition movement had become more sophisticated in its criticism -- whereas it had asked "Where is my vote?" now it was questioning the entire government, she said.

Ebadi, who won the Peace Prize in 2003, criticized Western powers and the media for focusing on Iran's disputed nuclear program instead of concentrating on human rights violations.

"Nuclear energy has cast a shadow over the human rights violations," she said, adding that this was one of the reasons the situation had worsened. If countries enter into negotiations with Iran, they must address human rights abuses, Ebadi said.

"Ask why they are hanging minors, why there are stonings, why are so many journalists in jail," she said.

Last week the United Nations Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making atomic weapons.

Ebadi said she supported political sanctions but not military action or economic measures which could hurt the population.