Violence Follows Iran Election

Thousands of Iranians clashed Saturday with government forces following the announced election win of incumbent President Ahmadinejad.

Tags: Defense
Hana Levi Julian ,

Re-elected Iranian President Ahmadinejad
Re-elected Iranian President Ahmadinejad
Israel news photo: (file)

Thousands of Iranians clashed Saturday with government forces in the streets of Tehran following the announcement of Friday's election victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad allegedly won in a relative landslide against moderate challenger and former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, 62.6 percent of the vote against 33.7 percent. Two other candidates pulled in very little support. A record 85 percent of 46.2 million eligible voters turned out for the vote.

Crowds chanted "What happened to our vote?" and "The government lied to the people," calling attention to allegations of vote-rigging and other elections violations, leveled by Mousavi against Ahmadinejad.

Numerous Polling Irregularities
Ballots were reportedly missing in many locations where support was heavy for Mousavi.

The challenger also charged that campaign workers at his headquarters had been beaten "with batons, wooden sticks and electrical rods."

Suspicion was further generated when the government announced Ahmadinejad to be the "clear winner" barely two hours after the polls closed, the first time such an event has ever occurred.

Mousavi Disappears: House Arrest?
The challenger himself, Mousavi, disappeared Saturday during the unrest. He was reportedly arrested during the day, according to an unofficial source that said he had been seized as he was traveling to the home of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The defeated candidate had said he would protest the results of the election and vowed not to accept defeat in a message on his web site.

"I'm warning that I will not surrender to this dangerous manipulation," he stated. "The outcome of what we've seen from the performance of officials… is nothing but shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran's sacred system and governance of lies and dictatorship."

It is unlikely that the Ayatollah would have extended himself to change matters, however; in a broadcast on state television, the Supreme Leader ordered viewers to unite behind Ahmadinejad. Khamenei, who is not an elected official and who holds absolute political power in Iran, proclaimed the election results a "divine assessment," according to foreign reporters in the country.

Ahmadinejad claimed in his televised victory speech, "People voted for my policies" in a "free and healthy election."

Arrests and Resignations
More than 100 activists were arrested in their homes by nightfall, including Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of former President Mohammad Khatami, according to activist spokesman Mohammad Ali Abtahi.

Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, currently the head of the Expediency Council, the national political arbitration body, also resigned in protest from every official position he holds.

Worst Riots Since 1979
The riots were the worst recorded since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Protestors, many who were young and wearing the Mousavi campaign trademark green colors, hurled rocks at police and burned an empty bus, piles of tires and trash cans in the city's streets.

At least three protestors were killed by police on Saturday according to unconfirmed reports by local sources.

Several hundred students at Tehran University were chased by some 100 riot police decked out in helmets and shields, who fired tear gas and pepper juice at the protestors.

Other demonstrators staging a sit-in at Vanak Square were beaten with clubs by motorcycle police.

Foreign Journalists Attacked
A number of foreign reporters who were caught in the melee related tales of violence by government forces.

An Iranian interpreter for an Italian news crew was beaten with clubs by riot police, and officers confiscated the cameraman's tapes, according to Italy's state TV RAI.

An Associated Press photographer witnessed an Iranian plainclothes security officer beating a woman with a truncheon. Other police officers smashed cars with their clubs, reporters said.

Communications in the capital was crippled over the weekend; the cellular phone network in the capital was shut down on Saturday and remained non-operational overnight, disabling SMS text-messaging capabilities as well. Internet social networking sites that had been used by Mousavi supporters, such as Facebook, were also jammed.

U.S. Skeptical, Guarded Response
U.S. officials were clearly skeptical of the results. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration was paying close attention to allegations of irregularities at the polls.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. hopes the outcome of the election reflects the "genuine will and desire" of the Iranian people.