, TEHRAN Jun 21 – At least 10 people were killed in the latest unrest to shake Tehran, state television said on Sunday, as the opposition stepped up its defiance of Iran’s Islamic rulers over the disputed election.
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi fired off an unprecedented criticism of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after police clashed with thousands of protestors in Tehran, swept up in the worst unrest since the Islamic revolution 30 years ago.
State television said 10 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in riots and clashes in Tehran on Saturday, blaming "terrorists" armed with firearms and explosives.
Iran’s deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan blamed "thugs" from the exiled opposition group the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI) for the violence.
Last week, state media reported that at least seven people had been killed and many more wounded in the post-election protests which have engulfed Tehran and other cities since last Saturday.
Mousavi, leading the massive wave of public opposition to the June 12 vote that returned hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, accused the country’s rulers of "cheating" and warned of a dangerous path ahead.
He unleashed his broadside against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s all-powerful supreme leader, after police firing tear gas and water cannon clashed with thousands of protestors who defied an ultimatum from Khamenei for an end to their street protests.
World leaders have voiced mounting alarm over the unrest, which has jolted the pillars of the Islamic regime and raised concerns over the future of the oil-rich Shiite Muslim powerhouse.
Iran has fired back, accusing foreign governments of meddling.
Ahmadinejad bluntly told the United States and Britain on Sunday to "stop interfering" after Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki accused London of plotting for the past two years to sabotage the election.
"By making hasty comments, you will not have a place in the circle of the Iranian nation’s friends. Therefore, I recommend you to correct your interfering positions," Ahmadinejad said in a statement on his website.
Mousavi, who was premier in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution, lashed out at Khamenei in an unprecedented challenge to the man who has ruled over Iran for 20 years.
In his first public appearance since the vote, Khamenei on Friday ruled out any election fraud and warned that opposition leaders would be responsible for "blood, violence and chaos" if there was no end to protests.
But the moderate Mousavi, 67, reiterated his demand for a new election after official results showed he had lost to the incumbent by a landslide, saying that "cheating" threatened the very foundations of the Islamic republic.
He warned in a statement on the website of his newspaper Kalameh that if people were unable to defend their rights peacefully "there will be dangerous ways ahead."
"We are not against our sacred system and its legal structures. This structure protects our independence, freedom and the Islamic republic," he said.
"We are against deviation and lying and we seek to reform that, reform to return to the pure principles of the Islamic revolution."
US President Barack Obama, who has appealed for dialogue with Tehran after three decades of severed ties, again called on the government to stop "all violent and unjust actions against its own people.
"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching."
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his country was "worried" by the loss of life in Iran, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a recount.
Khamenei, who last week ordered a probe into allegations of electoral fraud, had insisted in his Friday sermon on the legality of Ahmadinejad’s victory.
Thousands of demonstrators had braved tear gas and water cannon to gather in Tehran capital on Saturday, witnesses said, the sixth straight day of protests.
The foreign media has been barred from covering such events as part of tight restrictions imposed since the protests flared.
"The robocops beat us up badly," one protestor told AFP. "Men and women were beaten up… My whole body is bruised."
"Lots of guards on motorbikes closed in on us and beat us brutally," another witness said, blaming the Basij Islamic militia.
As part of its crackdown on reformists and political activists, authorities on Saturday arrested Jila Bani Yaghoub and Bahman Ahmadi Amouie who worked for a variety of reformist newspapers, a colleague said.
The head of Iran’s security council, Abbas Mohtaj, on Saturday delivered a stern warning to Mousavi, whose supporters have been turning out wearing scarves and headbands in green, his campaign colour.
"Should you provoke and call for these illegal rallies you will be responsible for the consequences," he said.
Iran’s electoral watchdog, the 12-member Guardians Council, said on Saturday it was ready to randomly recount up to 10 percent of the ballot boxes from the election, state television reported.
Karim Sadjadpour of US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the "previously sacred red lines" were being challenged in Iran – where 60 percent of the population were born after the revolution.
"It is unprecedented that people would begin to openly challenge Khamenei’s legitimacy as supreme leader, and indeed question the legitimacy of the institution of the supreme leader," he said.