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Grand Ayatollah's pronouncement is sign of disintegrating regime


In case you missed it, another blow to the Iranian regime's legitimacy was delivered yesterday when the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri issued a statement declaring essentially that no sane person should believe the official election results and that regime's handling of Mousavi's appeal is shameful.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of this turn of events. Although he's not well-known in the West, within Iran, Montazeri is highly revered, even amongst young people. He is the most senior Shiite cleric in the country and his pronouncements carry enormous weight.

Even more interestingly, Montazeri appears to have issued his remarks to the security forces in particular, a sign that loyalty amongst the Revolutionary Guard and army is already (or likely to soon be) cracking. The Basiji seem to be the only ones still strictly following the regime's orders to attack the protestors.

This is now the most obvious split that the regime is tearing apart, and its portrayal of itself as a monolith is a facade. Montazeri's statement is a hugely significant signal to both friends and opponents of Ahmadinejad, and is most likely going to hasten the disintegration of the regime.

See article below.

Iran's Top Cleric Denounces Election

Tuesday 16 June 2009

by: Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay
@ McClatchy Newspapers

Tehran, Iran - Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
and his main rival in the disputed presidential election, Mir Hossein
Mousavi, massed in competing rallies Tuesday as the country's most
senior Islamic cleric threw his weight behind opposition charges that
Ahmadinejad's re-election was rigged.

"No one in their right mind can believe" the official results from
Friday's contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the
landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime
of handling Mousavi's charges of fraud and the massive protests of his
backers "in the worst way possible."

"A government not respecting people's vote has no religious or
political legitimacy," he declared in comments on his official Web site.
"I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to 'sell their
religion,' and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before
God."

As many as three more protesters were reported killed in clashes
during Tuesday's opposition demonstration in Vanak Square - adding to
eight who were confirmed killed in Monday's protests.

Foreign news organizations were barred from covering Wednesday's
demonstrations, and the source of the report of the latest deaths was a
witness known to McClatchy, who asked that his name not be used for his
own security.

Tehran residents, who spoke to a McClatchy reporter on condition
that their names not be published, said there was widespread
intimidation by thousands of members of the Basij, a hard-line Islamic
volunteer militia loyal to the Islamic regime.

Iranian bloggers reported scattered violence after dark by Basij
members.

Nor were reports of violence limited to the capital.

In a voicemail to U.S. government-funded Radio Farda, and posted on
the Web site of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a woman who identified
herself as Zeinab from the city of Shiraz said students gathered in
front of university dormitories and protested peacefully.

"The Guard attacked the university and started beating the people.
What are the people supposed to do? They are forced to react," she said,
referring to the elite Revolutionary Guard, a parallel military force
that's controlled by Khamenei.

Montazeri's pointed public comments provided fresh evidence that a
serious rift has opened at the top of Iran's powerful religious
hierarchy after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei endorsed the official
election results and the harsh crackdown against the opposition.

A leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution who's often feuded with
Khamenei and once vied with him for the supreme leader's position,
Montazeri accused the government of attacking "the children of the
people with astonishing violence" and "attempting a purge, arresting
intellectuals, political opponents and scientifics."

"He is questioning the legitimacy of the election and also
questioning the legitimacy of (Khamenei's) leadership, and this is the
heart of the political battle in Iran," said Mehdi Noorbaksh, an
associate professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of
Science and Technology in Pennsylvania. "This is very significant. This
is huge support for Mousavi and the demonstrators on the reformists'
side."

In an attempt to defuse the crisis, the 12-member Guardian Council,
part of the ruling theocracy, announced that it would conduct a partial
recount of the balloting, which the government said Ahmadinejad won with
more than 24 million votes, to 13 million for Mousavi.

Government-funded Press TV, an English-language news service,
reported that at a meeting Tuesday with the council and the candidates'
representatives, Khamenei said a recount could take place if an
investigation found there was a need for one.

"Those in charge of supervising the elections are always trustworthy
people, but this should not prevent an investigation into possible
problems and clarifying the truth," he was quoted as saying.

The recount announcement, however, didn't appease Mousavi, reform
presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi or their supporters. Tens of
thousands filled the streets of Tehran for a fourth day carrying signs
and wearing scarves and ribbons of Mousavi's trademark color of green to
demand that the results be annulled.

"We are ready to recount those boxes that some presidential
candidates claim to have been cheated," council spokesman Abbas Ali
Kadkhodaei told Iranian journalists. Despite a lapsed deadline for
complaints, "the body is ready to receive complaints and probe into the
issue and build more confidence," he said.

It wasn't clear how many ballot boxes - or which ones - would be
recounted. Mousavi has demanded an annulment of the vote.

President Barack Obama said he had "deep concerns about the
election," but added that "it's not productive, given the history of
U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling."

The Iranian government, meanwhile, moved to extinguish international
news coverage of the crisis. The British and Czech charge d'affaires,
whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, were called to the
Foreign Ministry to hear complaints of "interference" in Iran's internal
affairs, Press TV reported.

At least eight demonstrators were shot dead and 28 others wounded
Monday by members of the Basij, according to workers at Tehran's Rasoul
Akram Hospital, where a video posted on YouTube showed hundreds of
doctors and nurses protesting the election results Tuesday.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance issued the ban on
foreign news coverage of rallies in Tehran, revoked the credentials of
those with temporary visas and ordered them to leave the country as soon
as possible. Cell phone service was cut in the city.

The ministry also prohibited news agencies and foreign broadcasters
from distributing video and pictures - a move that could precede a more
violent government crackdown. However, details of the Ahmadinejad and
Mousavi rallies reached the outside world via Twitter, YouTube and other
Web networks.

Video that demonstrators shot on cell phones showed comrades
carrying away a severely injured man in Vanak Square, the site of
nightly clashes. Another video clip showed large fires in the traffic
circle around the square.

Press TV said tens of thousands of people waving Iranian flags,
carrying portraits of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei and chanting "We are of
the same nation" attended the pro-Ahmadinejad "unity rally" at Vali-Asr
Square.

It quoted rally organizers as endorsing the Guardian Council's
review and urging security forces and judicial authorities to take
"decisive action" against "efforts to break the law, fuel chaos and
spark hooliganism."

The statement also called for the arrest and punishment of the "main
perpetrators of the recent plots," and accused the U.S., Britain and
Israel of "plotting against the government and giving media support to
enemy groups, rioters and social and political hooligans who are trying
to fuel chaos in the Islamic Republic."

Press TV reported that a number of reformist politicians had been
arrested, including former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, and
accused of "orchestrating" post-election violence.