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Iran rules out scrapping vote

TEHRAN, Jun 23 – Iran’s top election body ruled out cancelling the disputed presidential vote as the world voiced increasing alarm at the violent crackdown on opposition demonstrators posing the most serious challenge to the Islamic regime in 30 years.

"In the recent presidential election we witnessed no major fraud or breach," Guardians Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai was quoted as saying by English-language state television Press TV.

"Therefore, there is no possiblity of an annulment taking place."

The opposition has been staging almost daily protest rallies, alleging fraud and widespread irregularities in the June 12 election which returned hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power for another four years.

World leaders are calling for an immediate halt to state violence against the protesters, with state media reporting that at least 17 people killed and many more wounded in the unrest that has convulsed the nation for 11 days.

The streets of Tehran remained tense on Tuesday the day after hundreds of riot police armed with steel clubs and firing tear gas, many riding on motorbikes, broke up an opposition rally of about 1,000 people.

Demonstrators had gathered in a Tehran square in defiance of the Revolutionary Guards, the elite force set up in the wake of the 1979 revolution, which warned of a "decisive and revolutionary" riposte to protests.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced growing concern about the violence and urged "an immediate stop to the arrests, threats and use of force."

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He appealed to the government and the opposition "to resolve peacefully their differences through dialogue and legal means."

The White House bemoaned the lack of "justice" in Iran, and said President Barack Obama had been moved by scenes of demonstrators braving repression, especially women.

Some European governments have begun urging nationals to avoid travel to Iran, caught up in the worst crisis since the revolution 30 years ago that is threatenening the very foundations of the Islamic republic.

Student unions were planning to stage a protest outside the British embassy in Tehran on Tuesday but the interior ministry said it was not authorised and it was not clear if the demonstration would go ahead.

Iran has singled out Britain, as well as the United States, as one of the leading instigators of what it says is foreign "meddling" in the post election chaos.

The Fars news agency quoted student leader Esmail Tahmouressi as warning of another "November 4", the date when radical students seized the US embassy after the 1979 revolution, leading to a rupture of ties between Washington and Tehran that remains to this day.

Iranian lawmakers have called for Tehran to review its often strained relations with London, while the BBC correspondent has been expelled.

Britain said it was pulling out relatives of embassy staff in Tehran and, along with Italy and Germany, warned its nationals against travelling to Iran, where supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week said Britain was the "most evil" of its enemies.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the post-revolution premier who is now leading the wave of opposition protests, has urged his supporters to continue demonstrating but to adopt "self-restraint" to avoid more bloodshed.

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And in a sign the opposition remained defiant, defeated reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi called for a ceremony on Thursday to mourn slain protesters.

Mousavi, Karroubi and the third defeated challenger Mohsen Rezai have listed a total of 646 irregularities and are insisting on a new election, not a recount.

The Guardians Council is due to make its final ruling on Wednesday.

Foreign media have been restricted in their reporting of the crisis, and some Western outlet have been accused of fomenting the violence and acting as the "mouthpiece of rioters."

The authorities have imposed a ban on foreign media coverage of all unauthorised demonstrations, effectively keeping the journalists off the streets, but images of police brutality have spread worldwide via amateur video over the Internet.

Hundreds of protestors and prominent reformists and journalists have been rounded up by the authorities — even figures close to top regime officials including former president and powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The 27-member European Union on Monday rejected Iran’s claims of interference as "baseless and unacceptable" but voiced deep concern about the continuing brutality and called for the crisis to be settled through "democratic dialogue and peaceful means."

Rights watchdog Amnesty International urged Iran to stop using the Basij militia to police demonstrations, saying they have reportedly used "excessive force" against protesters.

Footage broadcast on the Internet has shown scenes of brutal violence, with one video viewed by hundreds of thousands around the globe purportedly showing a bloodstained young woman named Neda reportedly killed when hit by a bullet.

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