The president says post-election unrest was part of a foreign plot carried out by ‘subversives.’ His demand runs counter to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who gave a conciliatory speech Wednesday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech during the weekly Friday prayers at Tehran University. (Behrouz Mehri, AFP/Getty Images / August 28, 2009)
By Borzou Daragahi
8:46 AM PDT, August 28, 2009
Reporting from Beirut
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded the prosecution of opposition leaders today, raising the nation’s political temperature just a day and a half after supreme leader Ali Khamenei sought to cool tempers in a conciliatory speech.
In a pre-sermon speech at weekly prayers in Tehran, the capital, Ahmadinejad did not explicitly name his rivals Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, but left little doubt he was speaking about them in calling for the punishment of the “masterminds” who allegedly spurred weeks of unrest that followed his widely disputed June 12 reelection.
“The most important task for the judiciary and security bodies is to deal seriously with the leaders and masterminds” of the unrest, he said. “All of those who organized and instigated [the riots] and followed the enemy line have to be seriously confronted. The masterminds of the riots should by no means enjoy any immunity.”
The crowd inside the Tehran University venue chanted, “Execution for the ringleaders!”
Although a crackdown appears to have halted a protest movement that erupted amid allegations of vote-rigging in the election, it has failed to quiet reformist and moderate politicians who continue to defy hard-liners’ threats to have them jailed.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article referred to Mohammad Khatami as the Iranian president. He’s a former president.
“We will not budge regardless of all the pressures aimed at dislodging reformists,” former President Mohammad Khatami said at a meeting of political activists Thursday night. “We can no longer defend our Islamic Republic against rigid-minded, extremist and inhumane groups working under the name of Islam.”
On Wednesday, Khamenei made a conciliatory speech welcoming the opposition back into the political fold. He rejected the assertion made by Ahmadinejad’s supporters that opposition figures were backed by foreigners, and vowed to go after hard-line activists and security personnel who committed acts of violence against protesters, prisoners and students in the recent unrest.
Though he thanked the security forces and the pro-government Basiji militia, he also warned that “if an individual affiliated to any of these organizations has committed a crime or an offense,” he would be punished.
But Ahmadinejad described the violence as part of a foreign “enemy plot” carried out by “subversives” inside Iran.
“We have documents and evidence clearing our security, military and intelligence forces from such shameful conduct,” he told worshipers. “Our Basiji were beaten in streets in order to protect people. I assure you that the enemy-affiliated infiltrators were behind the corruption.”
Khamenei has long backed Ahmadinejad but has recently placed some distance between himself and the president.
“The current government and the respected president, just like any other human being in the world, have some strong and weak points,” he told students Wednesday night. “There are some strengths, and I support them.”
It remains unclear why Ahmadinejad has chosen again to confront Khamenei. The president faces a huge challenge in the coming days over his Cabinet picks, which parliament has vowed to forcefully scrutinize. Ahmadinejad today urged lawmakers “to let me decide about the efficiency” of the Cabinet picks.
Since the election, Ahmadinejad has alienated his erstwhile supporters on the right by defying Khamenei, especially over his pick of an in-law, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, as vice president, a move the supreme leader and other conservatives publicly opposed.
Ahmadinejad eventually backed down.
Fissures within the conservative camp were on display at prayers today with the absence of Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, the former intelligence minister whom Ahmadinejad sacked over the Mashaei affair but who has since been named the nation’s top prosecutor. His place was taken by the notorious Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, the hard-line jurist behind what critics describe as “show trials.”
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times