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Iranian Cleric Urges More Executions Of Protesters

Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- A hard-line Iranian cleric has urged judicial authorities to execute more opposition protesters to end anti-government demonstrations kindled by last year's disputed presidential election, state radio reported.

A day earlier, Iran hanged two men sentenced to death on charges including waging war against God, trying to overthrow the Islamic establishment and membership of armed groups.

Opposition websites have been inviting people to hold further antigovernment rallies on February 11, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Hard-line authorities have warned the opposition against "illegal" rallies.

"I thank the judiciary chief for executing two rioters and urge him to execute others if they do not give up such protests," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers at Tehran University. His speech was broadcast live on state radio.

Jannati is head of the Guardians Council, which vets candidates for national elections, and is a staunch supporter of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose victory in the June vote he has repeatedly praised.

Iran's interior minister warned opposition activists on January 5 they risked execution as enemies of God if demonstrations continued.

Authorities said the two were part of an 11-member pro-monarchy and antirevolutionary group who had planned to plant bombs and assassinate officials to create tension on the day of election and afterwards. Death sentences imposed on the other nine are at the appeal stage.

In Iran's bloodiest unrest since the immediate aftermath of the vote, eight people were killed on December 27, the date of the Shi'ite ritual of Ashura. Authorities have accused opposition leaders of links to "foreign enemies." The opposition denies the allegation.

Neither side has shown much appetite for compromise in the seven months since the vote and confrontations are expected to intensify on February 11.

"We showed weaknesses until Ashura.... There is no more space for tolerance," said Jannati.

Opposition leaders say the vote was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad's reelection. Authorities deny this.

The opposition says more than 70 people have been killed, but Iranian authorities estimate the postelection death toll at about half that number, including pro-government militiamen.