, TEHRAN, Jun 25 – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday warned his US counterpart Barack Obama to stop meddling in Iran’s affairs as the regime clamped down further on the opposition despite growing global concern.
His blunt message came as a top dissident cleric warned Iran’s rulers that their suppression of protests over the disputed election that returned Ahmadinejad to power could threaten the very foundations of the Islamic regime.
"I hope you (Obama) will avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.
He said Obama’s comments were similar to those of his predecessor George W. Bush — who took a hard line against Iran — and could torpedo any possible dialogue between the two arch-foes.
"Will you use this language with Iran (in any future dialogue)? If this is your stance, there will be nothing left to talk about," said Ahmadinejad.
Since taking office Obama has made diplomatic overtures towards Iran, after three decades of severed ties and a stand off with the international community over Tehran’s nuclear drive.
But he has been increasingly critical of the June 12 vote and voiced outrage at the crackdown on protesters who have staged mass demonstrations against what they charge was a rigged election.
Dissent is growing among top figures in Iran, with Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri issuing a new warning to the clerical regime as it battles its worst crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"If Iranians cannot talk about their legitimate rights at peaceful gatherings and are instead suppressed, complexities will build up which could possibly uproot the foundations of the government, no matter how powerful," Montazeri said in a statement to AFP.
Montazeri, once tipped as a possible successor to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, also called for an "impartial" committee to be set up to resolve the crisis.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who has ruled over the nation for 20 years — has insisted he will not back down over the vote and the regime’s security forces are moving swiftly to stop public protests.
In the face of the crackdown, Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist parliament speaker who came a distant fourth in the June 12 vote, cancelled a mourning ceremony Thursday but plans to hold it next week, his party website said.
A large force of riot police and Islamist Basij militiamen stopped a crowd of several hundred people trying to assemble outside parliament on Wednesday, according to a witness.
Another witness reported seeing police charge at passers-by, who dispersed into nearby streets, with some reports of shots being heard.
At least 17 people have been killed in the post-election violence, state media reports say, but there is no independent confirmation of the toll as the foreign media is barred from the streets.
Despite the restrictions, images of police brutality have spread worldwide via amateur video over the Internet.
The authorities have also intensified a crackdown on opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has branded the election a "shameful fraud" after he lost heavily to Ahmadinejad.
Reports said on Thursday that Iran has jailed more than 140 prominent political activists, journalists and university lecturers since the election, including Mousavi supporters.
The authorities have also spoken of arrested many hundreds of protesters over the unrest, including some people it said had British passports. Iran has also arrested two foreign reporters working for US publications.
In the latest diplomatic snub, the United States said it would no longer issue invitations for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 Independence Day parties at US embassies.
Iran has accused the United States and its close ally Britain in particular of stoking trouble, with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announcing on Wednesday that Tehran may downgrade ties with London.
The two governments have already expelled diplomats in a tit-for-tat move, while a number of other European nations have hauled in Iranian envoys for a dressing down.
Iran’s interior minister has also charged that rioters were being funded by the CIA and the exiled opposition group the People’s Mujahedeen.
Khamenei warned the regime would not tolerate dissent. Although Iran has refused to overturn the results of the poll, he has extended by five days a Wednesday deadline to examine vote complaints.
"In the recent incidents concerning the election, I have been insisting on the implementation of the law and I will be (insisting). Neither the system, nor the people will back down under force," he said.
The Revolutionary Guards, the elite force set up to protect the Islamic republic, has already warned of a "decisive and revolutionary" riposte to any further protests.
Mousavi has urged supporters to continue protesting but to show restraint to avoid bloodshed, with all opposition demonstrations banned by the authorities.
But in a blow to his campaign, another defeated candidate, former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai, has withdrawn his protest about election irregularities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on a visit to France, reiterated his call for action to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
"What we need is a change in Iran, a change of policies, for moderation, for freedom and for peace."