The UK has demanded the immediate release of Iranian staff at its Tehran embassy who were arrested on Saturday.
Iranian media earlier reported that eight local staff at the mission had been detained for their “considerable role” in post-election riots.
UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the arrests “harassment” and dismissed the allegations as baseless.
Relations between the countries are strained after Tehran accused the UK of stoking unrest, which London denies.
Iran has repeatedly accused foreign powers – especially Britain and the US – of stoking the unrest that swept the country after the 12 June election, which handed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a decisive victory.
In the fallout of the crisis, Tehran expelled two British diplomats in the past week, and the UK has responded with a similar measure.
Mr Miliband said about nine employees had been detained in total, but some had been released
“We are still concerned about a number of them who to our knowledge have not been released… The numbers are changing hour by hour,” he said on the sidelines of a European security meeting on the Greek island of Corfu.
“The idea that the British Embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran in recent weeks is wholly without foundation,” he added.
A strong protest had been made directly to the Iranian authorities, but there had been no response.
Mr Miliband said he would discuss the arrests with his European Union colleagues.
“All European countries have made clear that they want to stand together in standing up for the diplomatic principles that are important for our diplomatic activity all over the world,” he said.
The arrests were first reported by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
“Eight local employees at the British embassy who had a considerable role in recent unrest were taken into custody,” Fars said, without giving a source.
Some 17 people are thought to have died in street protests after the disputed presidential poll, which the opposition complains was rigged.
Meanwhile, Iran’s powerful Guardian Council was due to give its verdict on the result of the disputed presidential election.
But the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in Tehran says there is much politicking taking place behind the scenes, and that the five-day deadline for the Guardian Council to return its verdict may be extended.
Our correspondent says there is an attempt to form a committee – including the disappointed presidential candidates – to oversee the recount of 10% of the votes, a move which they are resisting.
Another parliamentary committee is holding discussions with the grand ayatollahs in an attempt from pro-Ahmadinejad forces to put on a show of unity, he adds.
But opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has not backed away from his claim that the election result was fraudulent, and has refused to support the Guardian Council’s plan for a partial recount.
Mr Mousavi has been calling for a full re-run of the vote, but said on Saturday that he would accept a review by an independent body.
However the Guardian Council has already defended President Ahmadinejad’s re-election, saying on Friday that the presidential poll was the “healthiest” since the Iranian revolution in 1979.
(CNN) — Iranians wounded during protests are being seized at hospitals by members of an Islamic militia, an Amnesty International official told CNN.
“The Basijis are waiting for them,” said Banafsheh Akhlaghi, western regional director of the human rights group, referring to the government’s paramilitary arm that has cracked down on protesters during the violent aftermath of the June 12 presidential election.
Amnesty International has collected accounts from people who have left Iran and expatriates with relatives there who say the Basij has prohibited medical professionals from getting identification information from wounded demonstrators who check in, Akhlaghi said on Saturday. They are also not allowed to ask how the injuries happened, and relatives are hard pressed to find the wounded.
Once the patients are treated, the militia removes them from the hospital to an undisclosed location, she said.
Iran has restricted international news agencies, including CNN, from reporting inside the Islamic republic. However, CNN has received similar accounts, including that of a woman who arrived in the United States from Iran with a broken ankle and thumb. The woman, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of her safety, said she was injured in a rally, but was too scared to go to a hospital. Instead, a doctor came to her home to treat her.
“The point is, when they are being taken to the hospital they don’t actually get there,” her friend who accompanied her told CNN last week. “Just like the reporters are being told not to report what they really see. Hospitals, administrative levels, are being told to stay out of the public because they’re saying you’re accusing the regime of being hostile.”
Amnesty International is also reporting the detention of at least 70 scholars and eight politicians — most from former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s administration — in addition to several opposition activists and international journalists.
More than two weeks into turmoil, Iran’s leaders turned up the heat Friday as a high-ranking cleric warned protesters that they would be punished “firmly” and shown no mercy.
“Rioters and those who mastermind the unrest must know the Iranian nation will not give in to pressure and accept the nullification of the election results,” said Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami during Friday prayers in Tehran, according to Iran’s state-run Press TV.
“I ask the Judiciary to firmly deal with these people and set an example for everyone,” Khatami said.
Khatami also blamed demonstrators for the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who emerged as a powerful symbol of opposition after her death a week ago was captured on a cell phone video. Khatami said the foreign media had used Neda for propaganda purposes.
Human Rights Watch, citing interviews with people in Iran, said Friday the Basij is carrying out brutal nighttime raids, destroying property in private homes and beating civilians in an attempt to stop nightly rooftop chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).
The nighttime chanting is emblematic of the protests 30 years ago during the Iranian revolution, which toppled the monarchy of the shah.
“While most of the world’s attention is focused on the beatings in the streets of Iran during the day, the Basiji are carrying out brutal raids on people’s apartments during the night,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.
Residents from northern Tehran neighborhoods told Human Rights Watch that the Basij fired live rounds into the air, in the direction of buildings from which they believed the chants were sounding.
Basij members kicked down doors and “when they entered the homes, they beat” people, a resident said.
The rights group said it had collected similar accounts of violence from several other neighborhoods. Such accounts also are consistent with numerous accounts CNN has received of nighttime roundups of opposition activists and international journalists from their homes. Amateur videos sent to CNN also show members of the Basij, wearing plain shirts and pants and wielding clubs and hoses, dispersing protesters and beating a handful of Iranians at a time.
Unrest in Iran erupted after the presidential elections in which hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadwas declared the winner. Ahmadinejad’s chief rival, Mir Hossein Moussavi, called the results fraudulent and has asked for a cancellation of the vote. Members of Iran’s National Security Council have told Moussavi that his repeated demands for the annulment are “illogical and unethical,” the council’s deputy head told the government-run Iranian Labor News Agency.
On Saturday Ahmadinejad slammed U.S. President Barack Obama, a day after Obama labeled as “outrageous” violence against demonstrators disputing election results.
“Didn’t he say that he was after change?” Ahmadinejad asked Iranian judiciary officials in a speech. “Why did he interfere? Why did he utter remarks irrespective of norms and decorum?”
The National Security Council, which includes dozens of political leaders, assists Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s unelected supreme leader. Together, they set the parameters of regional and foreign policies, including relations with Western powers, and the country’s nuclear programs.
The Guardian Council, which approves all candidates running for office and verifies election results, has declared that there will be no annulment of the votes. However, it has reminded opposition candidates they have until Sunday to lodge any further complaints about the vote.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
End Violent Attacks on Protesters, Arrests of Critics
(New York) – The Iranian government should immediately end its nationwide crackdown on opposition activity, Human Rights Watch said today. The scale of the crackdown is apparent in the arrest of scores of reformist politicians, intellectuals, and journalists across Iran on June 17 and 18, together with violent attacks by police and state-sponsored militias against largely peaceful demonstrators, Human Rights Watch said.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on June 19 issued a warning that protests against the country’s disputed presidential election results must end and that political leaders would be blamed for any violence. Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks followed several public statements by leading officials in the past week threatening a crackdown against protesters.
“Peaceful protests are a fundamental right,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to stop its harassment and intimidation of its critics, including peaceful demonstrators.”
Other signs of the nationwide crackdown include attacks by security forces and state-sponsored militias on university student dormitories (a traditional stronghold of opposition protesters), the severe disruption of internet and mobile telephone communications, and restrictions on international and domestic media reporting on the protests against alleged election fraud.
In past years, peaceful student protests, as well as labor unrest and protests by ethnic minorities, have been met with a harsh crackdown from the authorities including physical attacks by security forces and pro-government Basij militias on protesters, mass arrests, and the torture of some detainees. The last major round of student protests in Tehran occurred in 1999, but this week’s demonstrations in Tehran and other Iranian cities appear to be by far the biggest since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
Iran is bound by international human rights law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified in 1975. Under the covenant, Iran is required to recognize and protect key human rights, including peaceful assembly and freedom of association.
Widespread Arbitrary Arrests
Since protests started on June 13, following the release of the disputed results of the June 12 election, Human Rights Watch has confirmed from sources across Iran the arrest of hundreds of opposition and reformist activists. Those arrested include prominent political and religious leaders on the reforming wing of the political establishment as well as leading intellectuals, journalists, and students. The arrest of hundreds of protesters, including university students in Tehran and Mashhad, has been reported by unofficial Iranian internet news sites.
According to reliable reports, beginning on June 13, security forces began arresting leading reformers, including: Mohammad Reza Khatami, member of the Central Committee of the leading reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the brother of former President Mohammad Khatami; Behzad Nabavi, founding member of the reformist Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Party; Mohsen Mirdamadi, secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Front; Mostafa Tajzadeh, a leading strategist in the Islamic Iran Participation Front and former deputy interior minister; and Shaeed Shariati, a member of the Central Committee of the Islamic Iran Participation Front. The following day three, leading opposition journalists – Taghi Rahmani, Reza Alijani, and Hoda Saberi – were arrested, but were released within 48 hours.
On June 16, the security forces arrested: Saeed Hajjarian, a former adviser to former President Khatami who was severely disabled in a March 2000 assassination attempt; Mohammad Ali Abtahi, also known as “the blogging Mullah,” a leading adviser to the reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi who chairs the Institute for Religious Dialogue and sits on the central council of the reformist-oriented Association of Combatant Clerics; and Abdolfattah Soltani, a leading human rights lawyer who directs the Defenders of Human Rights Center and had previously been detained from July 2005 until March 2006.
On June 17, security forces detained Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, Iran’s first foreign minister after the revolution and secretary-general of the opposition Freedom Movement of Iran, at Pars Hospital, where he was undergoing medical treatment. He was later returned to the hospital from Evin prison, but remains under guard. Saeed Laylaz, the prominent economist and business reporter for Sarmayeh newspaper who is one of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most outspoken critics, was arrested on June 17 at his home.
Among other prominent figures reported to have been detained are Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, the spokesperson during the Khatami presidency and a leading member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front: Bagher Oskouiee, a leading campaign official for Karroubi; Amir Mardani, a member of Karroubi’s campaign staff; Mohsen Aminzadeh, former deputy minister of foreign affairs and a supporter of the reformist presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi; Mohammad Atrianfar, an opposition journalist and senior adviser to former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; and Mohammad Tavasoli, the director of the political office of the Freedom Movement of Iran. It is also reported that other members of the Karroubi campaign staff have also been arrested in Tehran and Tabriz. Dozens of other arrests of lesser-known activists, students, and politicians have also been reported to Human Rights Watch.
Although Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine the circumstances of all of these arrests, in none of the cases it has examined did the authorities provide any document or warrant at the time of arrest. Associates of some of those detained contacted by Human Rights Watch indicated that their families have not heard from them since their arrests.
The wife of one of those arrested told Human Rights Watch that the arresting authorities presented no summons or other legal documents when taking her husband into custody. Since then, she said: “for five days, we have not received any information on where he is and his health condition. That makes us very concerned.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 9, states that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention.” It requires Iran, as a state party, to ensure that everyone arrested is informed at the time of their arrest of the reasons for their detention, as well as any criminal charges against them, and brought before a judge or judicial officer to review their detention.
A Violent Crackdown by State-Sponsored Militias and Security Forces
Since the protests began last week, units of the state-sponsored Basij paramilitary militia and government security forces have engaged in sporadic violence against demonstrators and opposition activists. On a number of occasions, the Basij militia, which was founded during the 1979 revolution and is subordinate to the Revolutionary Guards, has attacked student dormitories, beating the students and ransacking their rooms. Basij militia members have arrived in large groups at mass demonstrations, normally on motorcycles, to attack protesters.
In Tehran, official media reported that seven people were killed at an incident at a Basij base on June 15 in the Azadi Square district, although it has not elaborated on the circumstances of those killings. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into the incident.
In another incident reported by local and foreign media, including the Amirkabir University newsletter, Basij forces invaded dormitories at Tehran University on June 14, attacking students and burning some of their rooms. Amateur film footage of that attack appears to show black-clothed Basij militia members armed with sticks and other weapons chasing students. There have also been reports of violent attacks by security forces on demonstrators and students in the provincial towns of Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Bandar Abbas, and Mashhad. The Iranian government has attempted to suppress news from those towns by shutting down communication networks and banning reporters from traveling outside Tehran. International journalists who were present in provincial capitals such as Isfahan say that the crackdown in those towns has been even more violent than in Tehran.
Throughout the week, residents of Tehran and other Iranian cities have reported sightings of Basij militia armed with clubs and chains patrolling the streets, stopping passers-by and beating up those suspected of involvement in anti-government protests. Many protesters can be identified by their green clothes or armbands, as that color has become the symbol of support for Mousavi.
Mousavi filed a complaint with Iran’s state national security council that plainclothes agents used sticks, metal rods, and firearms to “attack the lines of peaceful participants before the arrival of the security forces.”
One resident of Tehran told Human Rights Watch that he had seen Basij militia members operating in various parts of the city, including Vanak Square, the focal point of many reformist gatherings. The Basij moved about in groups of about 20 on motorcycles, beating and harassing protestors with batons. “People were coming through peacefully, chanting, but not provoking the Basji militia members,” he said. “But they [the militia members] came forward and beat people.” Human Rights Watch has received similar reports of unprovoked violence by the Basij militia and Iranian security forces from other parts of Tehran and other Iranian cities.
The Iranian Parliament has taken some steps to investigate violent attacks. On June 16, Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament, created a committee to investigate “unfortunate incidents” at a Tehran University student dormitory on June 14, in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election. The following day the deputy speaker of parliament, Mostafa Abutorabi, said that “plainclothes individuals entered the dormitory without being on a mission from their responsible institutions.”
In the past, the Iranian government has failed to hold the Basij militias accountable for violent attacks on opposition activists and protesters. During some of the violent attacks against protesters by Basij militias this week, witnesses have reported that police and other formal uniformed security forces were often present but failed to intervene.
Warnings of a Crackdown on ‘Criminal’ Protests
Government officials also appear to be engaged in an organized campaign to discredit and criminalize those engaging in peaceful protest. Leading government and pro-government figures have claimed the latest protests are a result of a Western-sponsored conspiracy.
On June 11, the eve of the election, Yadollah Javani Mousavi, political head of the Revolutionary Guard, warned that authorities would crush any attempt at a popular “revolution” and said they would not tolerate the formation of a post-election political force under the banner of the candidate Mousavi’s “green movement.”
On June 15, the Revolutionary Guard’s “Center for Review of Organized Crime” issued a statement accusing several Iranian blogs and websites of promoting “street riots” and “rebellious behavior,” warning that “our legal action against them will cost them dearly.”
On June 18, Mohammadreza Habibi, the prosecutor-general of the province of Isfahan, threatened protesters “controlled by foreigners” that they could face the death penalty, stating that the punishment for “waging war against God is execution.”
On June 19, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a sermon following Friday prayers at Tehran University, again endorsing Ahmadinejad as the winner of the disputed presidential elections and demanding an end to the street protests, ominously warning that “if there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible.” The sermon could give the green light to a broader, more violent crackdown on the opposition.
Attempts to Shut Down the Media and Communications in Iran
The government has sought to disrupt the flow of information about the demonstrations, banning the foreign and domestic media from reporting on unauthorized protests and rallies, intimidating bloggers, and seeking to block websites that have been a vital tool for the opposition movement.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has refused to extend the short-duration work visas of foreign journalists currently in Iran, and has ordered them not to attend or report on unauthorized opposition protests and rallies without permission from the ministry, which has not been granted.
Authorities have also placed the domestic press under severe censorship: on June 17, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance ordered two major opposition dailies, Hayat e No and Aftab e Yazd, not to publish, stating this was because of their prominent coverage of the peaceful opposition protests. Mohammad Atryanfar, the publisher of a number of opposition newspapers including Hamshary, Shargh, and Shahrvand Emrouz, was detained on June 15 and remains in detention.
Mobile phone and text messaging networks have also been switched off sporadically. Since June 12 censorship and filtering of websites has intensified. In the past three days Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, and other internet-based communication tools have been blocked or interrupted by the Iranian authorities. Several Iranian journalists in Tehran told Human Rights Watch that slowed internet connections, blockage of websites, and disruption of mobile phone and text networks have severely hampered their ability to report on events.
International law, in particular article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires Iran to protect freedom of expression. The covenant states that this right specifically includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any media.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to stop arresting peaceful protesters and opposition supporters, and to free those it has already detained. It should allow all Iranians to exercise their rights to demonstrate peacefully and to express and receive information freely from any source. Authorities should end all harassment, especially acts of the violence by security forces and Basij militias against peaceful protesters. The acts of violence by security forces that have taken place should be immediately investigated, and perpetrators of unlawful violence should be prosecuted.
Marie Colvin in Tehran
In a letter to Khamenei, he claimed that the voting had been rigged months ago. Last night he warned that he could face detention and urged his followers to stage a national strike if he is arrested.
Chanting “death to dictatorship”, large crowds gathered in a boulevard linking Tehran’s Freedom Square and Revolution Square. They threw stones, knocked members of the Basiji militia off their motorcycles and set the machines on fire.
One witness described police on motorbikes beating protesters with truncheons. Helicopters hovered over the city centre, ambulances raced through the streets and black smoke rose into the sky from fires lit in metal dustbins.
Just outside Tehran, two people were killed and eight injured when a suicide bomber attacked the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution.
Regime officials blamed their opponents for the attack. Opposition sources said they believed that it could have been staged by the regime to stir up anger against them.
The demonstrators were trying to force a new election after an overwhelming victory was declared last weekend for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardline protégé of Khamenei.
Khamenei had laid his authority on the line on Friday by publicly backing Ahmadinejad and endorsing the result. Yesterday Mousavi and two other defeated candidates were invited to an emergency meeting of Iran’s Guardian Council, the body that oversaw the election, to discuss allegations of voting fraud.
The council offered to recount 10% of the votes at random but Mousavi, who refused to attend the meeting, held out for fresh elections.
As the minutes ticked down to the scheduled start time of an opposition rally at 4pm, no one was sure what would happen. On Twitter, the networking site most frequently used by protesters after the regime blocked mobile phones and texting, suspicions ran high that agents of the state were posting false messages to deter demonstrators from attending.
Riot police flooded key areas. The city appeared calm. Then a message appeared on the Facebook site of Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife, stating simply: “Demonstration on Saturday at 16.00 in Tehran and all around the world please.”
Crowds headed towards the university, Revolution Square and Freedom Square in the centre of the city. As in the 1979 uprising against the shah, many were from the educated middle class.
Soon an Iranian journalist, writing on Twitter in broken English, was reporting “Streets full of population”.
Later he tweeted that the militia had attacked the protesters with batons. Then: “Hard conflict between the people and the special guard.”
Videos made by people on the streets were said to have recorded protesters chanting, “Death to Khamenei”. Never before had the supreme leader faced such open hostility from his compatriots.
Soon afterwards a Twitter source said “the street is full of rocks and fire” and police or Basiji were “shooting directly to the people in Azadi St”.
Eyewitnesses described fierce clashes, telling of incidents where 50 or 60 protesters were seriously beaten by police and taken to hospital in Tehran. People could be seen dragging away bloodied comrades.
By late afternoon one eyewitness told The Sunday Times that at least 20 shots had been fired and many protesters had been beaten. Others claimed more drastic action.
The regime had already arrested 2,000 members of the opposition by Thursday, including 100 senior figures, and by last night the figure had risen sharply.
If the clashes continue, Khamenei may call on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to quell dissent. But whether they will fight civilians is open to question. They are charged with protecting the revolution, not the supreme leader. Some are loyal to Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful former president who is backing Mousavi.
Last week one young member of the Revolutionary Guard said as he watched the demonstrators: “I will not be able to fire on these people. Maybe some of us will, but I won’t.”
Although details of casualties were hard to obtain because of the restrictions on the media, disturbing video film apparently taken from the riots appeared late yesterday. One clip showed a young women lying in the road attended by passers-by. She had been wounded in the leg and blood was pouring from her mouth. She appeared to be dying.
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — Iran’s supreme leader will deliver a sermon Friday at Tehran University, just days after a bloody crackdown at the school, according to a statement from the pro-government Basij militia.
Students rally atop a building Monday on the campus of Tehran University.
Crowds of demonstrators have been protesting in the streets of Tehran, demanding that officials throw out election results that showed hardline incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi.
Khamenei has appealed to Iranians to stand behind the Islamic republic.
The Basij militia — which is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — declared Friday a day for the Iranian nation to renew its allegiance to Khamenei.
Moussavi called for a day of mourning Thursday.
Tehran University students told a CNN iReporter that government forces staged a massive crackdown early Monday at the university. Some students were detained in the raid.
Students jumped out of windows to escape the Iranian police forces who threw tear gas and beat them, according to the iReporter, a former Tehran University student who lives outside Iran. He did not want to be identified.
Iran‘s parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, has blamed the country’s Interior Ministry for the crackdown on the university, as well as other attacks on civilians, government-funded Press TV reported.
However, Larijani also said “it appears that hidden hands are at work to feed foreign media outlets with propaganda,” according to Press TV.
Investigating lawmakers have spoken to Tehran University students and other officials and are demanding the release of the detained students, Press TV reported.
The lawmakers are also calling for the arrest and punishment of those who perpetrated the violence and for students to be compensated for their losses, according to Press TV.
Supporters of Iran’s defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi have held another big rally in northern Tehran.
Hours before, thousands of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s supporters staged their own protest in the city centre.
The opposition rally went ahead despite an official offer of a partial recount of the poll, which returned Mr Ahmadinejad to power.
Tough new restrictions have been imposed on foreign media reporting.
The curbs came amid apparent surprise and concern among the authorities at the scale of popular defiance over Friday’s official election results, correspondents say.
Reporting from Tehran
In a way we’ve reached a bit of a deadlock. The government can’t work out how to deal with the unprecedented demonstrations. But the opposition is disorganised, it has no co-ordination, no strategy.
And the demonstrators, despite the radical nature of what they are doing, don’t fully perceive the way in which they are threatening the foundations of Islamic Republic. This has gone way beyond disputed elections.
I don’t think the offer of a recount will have much effect. They haven’t said who would do the recount, what about irregularities on election day? Nothing less than a full re-run of the election would satisfy the opposition. I can’t see how government would offer that. The Supreme Leader has staked so much on the results of this election, it would be a massive u-turn.
President Ahmadinejad was declared the easy victor of the presidential poll on Saturday, with results giving him 63% of votes against 34% for Mr Mousavi.
But the opposition alleged widespread irregularities.
The powerful Guardian Council says it is ready to recount some votes from the poll. A spokesman for the Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhoda’i, told the state broadcaster Irin that the council had met representatives of the presidential candidates and would look into their allegations.
But opposition candidates have demanded a full re-run of the election.
On Tuesday evening, Ayatollah Khamenei – who has backed the Guardian Council’s recount – called for “tolerance” and “patience” during a TV address on Tuesday evening.
But he also referred to Mr Ahmadinejad as the country’s elected president – apparently prejudging the recount, said correspondents.
Anger at the official result saw hundreds of thousands of Mr Mousavi’s supporters take to the streets on Monday – in a rally the size of which correspondents said not been seen in Tehran since the 1979 revolution.
A witness told the BBC that Tuesday’s rally was even bigger than Monday’s – though this cannot be independently confirmed – and the state Press TV also described it as large.
Witnesses described demonstrators walking in near silence towards state TV headquarters – apparently anxious not to be depicted as hooligans by authorities.
Thousands of Ahmadinejad supporters also rallied in Tehran
Thousands of supporters of President Ahmadinejad staged their own rally in Vali Asr Square in central Tehran – some bussed in from the provinces, correspondents say.
The latest opposition rally comes despite a Mousavi spokesman urging supporters not to take part in another demonstration on Tuesday, amid fears of new violence.
Iran’s police chief, Gen Ahmadi Moqaddam, has warned action will be taken against any unauthorised protest, and “will quell any unrest”.
Hospital officials say eight people died in violence which erupted at the end of Monday’s rally, which authorities blamed on “thugs”.
Since then, the authorities have imposed tough new restrictions on foreign journalists operating in Tehran – the most sweeping restrictions our correspondent in Tehran, Jon Leyne, says he has ever faced.
They must now obtain explicit permission before leaving the office to cover any story.
Journalists have also been banned from attending or reporting on any “unauthorised” demonstration – and it is unclear which if any of the protests are formally authorised.
Some telephone, SMS and internet services have also been restricted, prompting some protesters to turn to the internet messaging service Twitter to communicate.
Iran’s most powerful body, currently controlled by conservatives
Includes six theologians picked by Supreme Leader and six jurists approved by parliament
Half the members change every three years
Approves bills passed by parliament and can veto them if deemed inconsistent with the constitution or Islamic law
The council can also bar candidates from standing in elections
The importance of such new means of communication was highlighted by a US official on Tuesday.
The official said the state department contacted Twitter over the weekend to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that could have cut daytime service to Iranians.
Dozens of people have been arrested since the protests began – including Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a close aide of ex-President Mohammad Khatami, and journalist and academic Ahmad Zeidabadi.
On Tuesday, lawyer Abdolfatah Soltani of the Human Rights Defenders’ Centre was arrested, a colleague told AFP news agency. The centre is led by Iranian Nobel peace prizewinner Shirin Ebadi.
Unrest has also been reported in other Iranian cities including Mashhad, Isfahan and Shiraz.
In Isfahan, a demonstrator, Arash, told the BBC that the religious police initially tried to quash a protest using tear gas and throwing stones, but that they had retreated as the size of the crowd grew.
“Then people headed towards a building where the religious police are based, because they were angry that the religious police had attacked them with stones.
“So people set their bikes on fire. They started shouting slogans like ‘death to the dictator’, and they were inviting the army and the police to join the real people,” he told the BBC.
It’s young people themselves who are organising these protests… It’s just word of mouth and a feeling of anger that gets people out on the streets
Pro-opposition protester in Isfahan
Arash added that it was a sense of disillusionment with Iranian politics that was driving the protests.
“It’s young people themselves who are organising these protests… It’s just word of mouth and a feeling of anger that gets people out on the streets.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama again expressed “deep concern” at events in Iran, but said it would not be helpful if the US was seen to be “meddling”.
Earlier, EU foreign ministers expressed “serious concern” and called for an inquiry into the conduct of the election.
But the Iranian authorities have bristled over the criticism. On Tuesday the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Czech charge d’affaires in Tehran to complain over the EU’s “rude and interfering” remarks.
Meanwhile, President Ahmadinejad arrived in Russia on Tuesday.
He told a regional summit that the “age of empires” had ended, but made no mention of the protests.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has defended his “completely free” re-election as Iran’s president, amid violent clashes on the streets over claims of election fraud.
Mr Ahmadinejad condemned the outside world for “psychological warfare” against Iranians during the election.
Thousands have protested against the result, burning barricades on the streets of Tehran and clashing with police, who responded with tear gas.
Reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi urged his supporters to avoid violence.
‘Down with the dictator’
Speaking on national television, Mr Ahmadinejad praised the Iranian people for choosing to “look toward the future” rather than returning to the past.
“This is a great victory at a time and condition when the whole material, political and propaganda facilities outside of Iran and sometimes… inside Iran, were total mobilised against our people,” he said.
He blamed “foreign media” for instigating a “full-fledged fight against our people”.
“Nearly 40 million people took part in a totally free election,” he said.
However, the official result, which gave Mr Ahmadinejad a resounding victory – 63% of the vote against 34% for Mr Mousavi – brought the worst violence seen in Tehran for a decade, correspondents said.
The BBC’s John Simpson saw secret policemen being attacked and chased away by protesters, which he says is extremely rare.
Some of the protesters in Tehran wore Mr Mousavi’s campaign colour of green and chanted “Down with the dictator”, news agencies report.
Four police motorbikes were set on fire near the interior ministry, where votes had been counted, our correspondent says.
Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli warned that any demonstrations needed official permission, and none had been given.
One opposition newspaper has been closed down and BBC websites also appear to have been blocked by the Iranian authorities. The AP news agency reports that mobile phone services have been blocked in Tehran.
Mr Mousavi urged calm in his website statement.
“The violations in the election are very serious and you are right to be deeply hurt,” he said.
Reporting from Tehran
A crowd of about 3,000 attacked the police, some of whom were on motorbikes, which they set on fire.
The sky was thick with black smoke. Police attacked the crowd with sticks and maybe teargas.
I didn’t expect to see people turning on the secret police. We were filming when we were surrounded by angry secret policemen. The crowd turned on them and chased them off.
I suspect we are not looking at a revolution but there is serious anger.
It all depends on how the government responds – if they use violence, that could inflame the situation.
“But I firmly call on you not to subject any individual or groups to hurt.”
Mr Mousavi earlier said the election was a “charade”.
“I personally strongly protest the many obvious violations and I’m warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade.
“The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate power, urged all Iranians “including yesterday’s competitors” to support the re-elected president.
He described the count as a “real celebration”, praised the high turnout of 85% and called for calm. “Enemies may want to spoil the sweetness of this event… with some kind of ill-intentioned provocations,” the ayatollah said.
Mr Mousavi had been hoping to prevent Mr Ahmadinejad winning more than 50% of the vote, in order to force a run-off election.
The BBC’s Jon Leyne in Tehran says the result has been greeted with surprise and with deep scepticism by many Iranians.
The figures, if they are to be believed, show Mr Ahmadinejad winning strongly even in the heartland of Mr Mousavi.
Our correspondent says Mr Ahmadinejad will feel emboldened in his global vision that foresees the death of capitalism, while at home, many Iranians will fear a clamp down on society and cultural life.
Surge of interest
There had been a surge of interest in Iran’s presidential election, with unprecedented live television debates between the candidates and rallies attended by thousands.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 62.6%
Mir Hossein Mousavi: 33.8%
Mohsen Rezai: 1.7%
Mehdi Karroubi 0.9%
Source: Interior ministry
There were long queues at polling stations on Friday, with turnout reaching 85%.
Four candidates contested the election, with Mohsen Razai and Mehdi Karroubi only registering about 1% of the vote each.
Iran is ruled under a system known as Velayat-e Faqih, or “Rule by the Supreme Jurist”, who is currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It was adopted by an overwhelming majority in 1979 following the Islamic revolution which overthrew the autocratic Western-backed Shah.
But the constitution also stipulates that the people are the source of power and the country holds phased presidential and parliamentary elections every four years.
All candidates are vetted by the powerful conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which also has the power to veto legislation it deems inconsistent with revolutionary principles.
To see in pictures: Iran election clashes
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s interior ministry said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took nearly 70 percent of the early votes counted, but his pro-reform rival countered that he was the clear victor and warned of possible fraud in the election. The dispute rose up even before polls closed early Saturday, heightening tensions across the capital where emotions have been running at a fever pitch. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate, suggested he might challenge the results.
The messy and tense outcome capped a long day of voting — extended for six hours to accommodate a huge turnout. It raised worries that Iran’s Islamic establishment could use its vast powers to pressure backers of Mousavi.
During the voting, text messages were blocked — a key campaign tool for reformers — as well as some pro-Mousavi Web sites. Security officials warned they would not tolerate political gatherings or rallies before the final results were known.
Even before the first vote counts were released, Mousavi held a news conference to declare himself “definitely the winner” based on “all indications from all over Iran.” But he gave nothing more to back up his claim and alleged widespread voting irregularities without giving specifics — suggesting he was ready to challenge the final results.
Moments after Mousavi spoke, however, Iran’s state news agency reported that Ahmadinejad was the victor. The report by the Islamic Republic News Agency also gave no details.
With more than 15 million votes counted, Ahmadinejad had 67.7 percent and Mousavi had 30.3 percent, said Kamran Daneshjoo, a senior officials with the Interior Ministry, which oversees the voting.
It was not reported whether the results were from locations considered Ahmadinejad strongholds or where Mousavi hoped to make headway.
The turnout was not immediately known, but election officials had predicted a possible record among the 46.2 million eligible voters.
During the voting, some communications across Iran were disrupted — Internet connections slowed dramatically in some spots, affecting the operations of news organizations including The Associated Press, and some pro-Mousavi Web sites were blocked. It was not clear what had caused the disruptions.
A high turnout was expected to help Mousavi, who is counting on an outpouring from what’s been called his “green tsunami” — the signature color of his campaign and the new banner for reformists seeking wider liberties at home and a gentler face for Iran abroad.
The president does not have the power to direct high-level policies, which are dictated solely by the ruling clerics. But the election focused on what the office can influence: boosting Iran’s sinking economy, pressing for greater media and political freedoms, and being Iran’s main envoy to the world.
Voters streamed to polling sites from the early morning until midnight — with balloting extended by at least four hours. Some waited for hours in temperatures that hit 113 degrees in Iran’s central desert or in nighttime downpours that lashed many parts of the country. In Tehran, a bride in her wedding gown cast her ballot. Families making traditional Friday visits to relatives’ graves filed into polling stations in the capital’s sprawling cemetery.
Results are expected Saturday. But worries about the volatile atmosphere were already clear. The Interior Ministry — which oversees voting — said all rallies or political gatherings would be banned until after the formal announcement of results.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the “robust debate” during the campaign suggests a possibility of change in Iran, which is under intense international pressure over its nuclear program.
“Ultimately the election is for the Iranians to decide,” said Obama, who has offered to open dialogue with Iran’s leaders after a nearly 30-year diplomatic freeze. “But … you’re seeing people looking at new possibilities. And whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there’s been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways.”
There were sporadic claims by Mousavi’s aides of voting irregularities, including ballots running out in some provincial sites, but they could not be independently verified. About a dozen Ahmadinejad supporters pelted a Mousavi office in Tehran with tear gas canisters, but no one was injured, said Saeed Shariati, head of Mousavi’s Web campaign. The attack could not be independently confirmed.
In a possible complication for Mousavi’s backers, Iran’s mobile phone text messaging system was down. Many Iranians, especially young voters, frequently use text messages to spread election information quickly to friends and family.
Only weeks ago, Ahmadinejad (Ah-mad-in-A-jad) seemed ready to coast to re-election with the reformist ranks in disarray. But Mousavi’s bid began to gain traction with young voters with his Web outreach and hip “green” rallies. Suddenly, the 67-year-old Mousavi (Mou-sa-VI), who served as prime minister in the 1980s, became the surprise hero of a powerful youth-driven movement.
“I hope to defeat Ahmadinejad today,” said Mahnaz Mottaghi, 23, after casting her ballot at a mosque in central Tehran.
Outside the same polling station, 29-year-old Abbas Rezai said he, his wife and his sister-in-law all voted for Ahmadinejad.
“We will have him as a president for another term, for sure,” he said.
The highly charged campaign brought blistering recriminations against Ahmadinejad — whom Mousavi said was moving Iran to a “dictatorship” — and a stunning warning from the ruling establishment. The political chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard warned Wednesday it would crush any “revolution” against the Islamic system by Mousavi’s “green movement.”
The outcome, however, will not sharply alter Iran’s main policies or sway major decisions, such as possible talks with Washington. Those crucial issues rest with the ruling clerics headed by the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But Mousavi has offered hopes of more freedoms at home. If elected, he could try to end crackdowns on liberal media and bloggers and push for Iran to embrace Obama’s offer of dialogue. He favors talks with world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, which the United States and others fear is aimed at making weapons. Iran says it only seeks reactors for electricity.
Iranians around the world also took part in the vote. In Dubai, home to an estimated 200,000 Iranians, the streets around the polling station at the Iranian consulate were jammed with voters overwhelmingly favoring Mousavi.
“He is our Obama,” said Maliki Zadehamid, a 39-year-old exporter.
In southern California and elsewhere in the U.S., Iranian expatriates and their children gathered at voting sites set up in hotels and mosques and staffed by volunteers. Many said they were voting for Mousavi.
Shahab Baniadam, 51, said he had been in the United States for 30 years and was voting in an Iranian election for the first time, casting his ballot for Mousavi because he “seems like a reasonable person.”
A top election official predicted turnout could surpass the nearly 80 percent in the election 12 years ago that brought President Mohammad Khatami to power and began the pro-reform movement. Mousavi is counting on under-30s, who account for about a third of Iran’s 46.2 million eligible voters.
In Tehran’s affluent northern districts — which strongly back Mousavi — voters waited for up to an hour to cast ballots. Mahdi Hosseini, a university student, sharply criticized Ahmadinejad for “degrading Iran’s image in the eyes of the world.”
Ahmadinejad brought international condemnation by repeatedly questioning the Holocaust.
In the conservative city of Qom, home to seminaries and shrines, hundreds of clerics and women dressed in long black robes waited to vote in a long line outside a mosque. Ahmadinejad’s campaign has heavily courted his base of working-class families and tradition-minded voters with promises of more government aid and resistance to Western pressures over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Mousavi hammered Ahmadinejad for mismanaging the economy, burdened by double-digit inflation and chronic unemployment despite vast oil and gas riches.
For the first time in Iran, the forces of the Web were fully harnessed in an election showdown. That catapulted Mousavi into political star.
On Friday, dozens of Iranians using Twitter posted messages including one that proclaimed: “For Iran, this is the Day of Decision.”
Mousavi’s stunning rise also has been helped by his popular and charismatic wife, former university dean Zahra Rahnavard, and their joint calls for more rights and political clout for women. Iranian women work in nearly all levels of society — including as parliament members. But they face legal restrictions on issues such as inheritance and court testimony, where their say is considered only half as credible as a man’s.
Iran’s elections are considered generally fair, but the country does not allow international monitors. The ruling clerics, however, put their stamp on the elections from the very beginning by deciding who can run. More than 470 people sought to join the presidential race, but only Ahmadinejad and three rivals were cleared.
During the 2005 election, there were some allegations of vote rigging from losers, but the claims were never investigated.
After casting his vote in the white ballot box, the Supreme Leader Khamenei urged Iranians to remain calm.
“As far as I see and hear, passion and motivation is very high among people,” Khamenei told reporters. “If some intend to create tension, this will harm people.”
In the southern city of Shiraz, people waited for hours to vote at the Shahchragh shrine, the burial site of a Shiite saint.
In the southeastern city of Zahedan — where a bomb blamed on Sunni militants killed at least 25 people at a Shiite mosque last month — there were no reports of tensions. The bombed mosque was used as a polling station.
The race will go to a runoff on June 19 if no candidate receives a simple majority of more than 50 percent of the votes cast. Much depends on how many votes are siphoned off by the two other candidates: conservative former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei and moderate former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi.
Brian Murphy reported from Cairo.