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Streets Quiet But Iran Opposition Vows To Continue Challenge

Attendees at Friday Prayers in Tehran on June 26.
The streets of Tehran were largely quiet as the Iranian government sought to signal that life had returned to normal after almost two weeks of sometimes massive and bloody public protests.

But opponents of the recent presidential vote appeared prepared to combat official measures to tamp public unrest, with opposition candidate Mir Hossein Musavi vowing that his challenge of the June 12 results would go on.

Images continue to emerge of brutal attacks on Iranians by elements of the country's security forces, and reports from Tehran said a climate of fear had gripped many residents.

There was little word of the fate of hundreds of people thought to have been rounded up in mass arrests as officials clamped down on the "Where Is My Vote?" rallies that alleged the election had been stolen.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight leading industrial states meanwhile issed a statement at a meeting in Trieste in which they "deplore" the violence in Iran and urge the government in Tehran to "guarantee that the will of the Iranian people is reflected in the electoral process."

'War' Being Waged

In one high-profile sign of authorities' efforts to return to normalcy, the speaker at Friday Prayers at Tehran University was again a senior cleric, but not Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Police helicopter above Tehran on June 20
In his sermon to the faithful in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami said the government should punish the leaders of the protests "ruthlessly and savagely."

He accused the protesters of being "at war with Islam."

Last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his Friday prayers to warn opposition leaders that they would bear responsibility for any bloodshed in further protest rallies.

Government websites have also returned to a "business-as-usual" look.

Much of the coverage was focused on President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who is to be sworn in for a second term by August, on official trips and attending official functions.

Lashing Out

That contrasts with the situation even 24 hours earlier. On June 25, Ahmadinejad -- who has been largely off-stage throughout the crisis -- emerged to fire a broadside at U.S. President Barack Obama.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad at the presidential palace on June 24
He charged Obama with jeopardizing chances for better U.S.-Iran relations by criticizing the violence with which security forces cracked down on demonstrators, accusing him of taking "rude tone" that was "inexcusable."

"We understand that you are still gaining experience and you are still trying to work out what's hot and what's cold," Ahmadinejad taunted, "and I want to give you a bit of friendly advice: We don't want to see a repetition of the mess that was created during the Bush era and we don't want to see the same thing happening to a new administration in the United States."

Ahmadinejad's statement was in line with the Iranian government's position of blaming foreign capitals for the unrest.

The Interior Ministry has accused the CIA and the armed resistance group The People's Mujahedin of Iran of funding the protests.

State television has shown detained protesters saying they were incited to riot by the VOA and BBC.

Fault Lines

But if the streets are now quiet after no protests on June 25, there are signs the fight over the election is heightening within the establishment itself.

Ahmadinejad's top opponent in the election, Musavi said on his website on June 25 that he would continue to challenge the results.

Musavi faulted regime officials with the bloodshed during the protests.

"I am willing to show how election criminals have stood by those behind the recent riots and shed people's blood," the website statement said. "I will not back down even for a second because of personal threats and interests from defending the rights of the people."

The remarks by Musavi, a former prime minister, came amid other signs of deep rifts in the establishment over Ahmadinejad's victory.

Iranian newspapers reported on June 25 that 105 of the 290 members of the conservative-dominated Parliament took part in a victory celebration for Ahmadinejad two days earlier.

There have also been public calls from at least two grand ayatollahs for some effort at national reconciliation, despite Supreme Leader Khamenei's public endorsement of Ahmadinejad's victory.

Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi said that "something must be done to ensure that there are no embers burning under the ashes...and there is cooperation among all parties."

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (file photo)
Another Grand Ayatollah, Hossein Ali Montazeri, called for an "impartial" committee to resolve the election dispute, warning that it could otherwise undermine the government.

Montazeri is a leading dissident cleric who has long been under house arrest. He was once expected to succeed the Islamic Republic's founder, Ruhollah Khomeini but lost in an apparent power struggle to Ali Khamenei.

Green Light On Protests?

The signs of deepening rifts suggest the feud will not end soon, despite the government's efforts to legitimize the results.

The news network Khabar has quoted the spokesman of Iran's Guardians Council as saying there were no major violations in the June 12 presidential election. He rejected election fraud alleged by the opposition.

Council spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei said that all complaints by the defeated candidates -- Musavi and Mehdi Karroubi, a former parliament speaker -- were reviewed but that there were no major violations.

With media severely restricted, amateur video and photos remain a key tool to follow events in Iran.
In another gesture apparently intended to show the crisis is behind it, the government says it will allow opposition supporters to hold rallies again in the future provided they meet strict preconditions.

Those conditions include organizers applying in person for permission to hold the rally and doing so one week ahead of the rally date. The statement said organizers must also agree to some additional, but unspecified, conditions.

Under the law of the Islamic Republic, citizens have the right to public assembly so long as the rallies are peaceful and not against the values of the Islamic Revolution.

The number of people killed during the protests in Iran remains uncertain. Earlier, the government had announced that at least 17 people died.

But PressTV, the English-language outlet for Iran's state media, has since put the death toll at 20. It also reports that eight of those killed were members of the paramilitary Basij militia.

There are no independent means of confirming the death toll.

Foreign media operating in Iran are under strict censorship rules and were barred from working in the streets during the protests.

written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Charles Recknagel; with additional wire reporting

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Following the disputed reelection of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, supporters of Mir Hossein Musavi have taken to the streets to protest. Click here for news, blogs, and analysis of the presidential election and aftermath.