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IRAN: Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi calls 22 Bahman celebrations 'engineered'

February 27, 2010 |  4:19 am
Iran-mousavi Iranian opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi accused the government of wasting public resources in a massive show of force against the opposition in his first public comments since planned protests failed to disrupt the Feb. 11 anniversary celebration of Iran’s 1979 revolution.

But in the lengthy interview published Saturday, Mousavi offered few specific suggestions on what the opposition should do next. For now, Mousavi said he and fellow opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi would press for permission to hold their own rally and reach out to more Iranians.

"Increasing the level of people's awareness is not achieved only in street protests," he said in an interview published by his Persian-language news website "Boosting the level of public awareness is the main strategy of the green movement."

Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential elections and its aftermath continue to dominate the nation’s domestic politics. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, describing the opposition as a Western-backed plot to undermine the system, demanded that its leaders bow to his insistence that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected cleanly.

"The post-election sedition was a negation of people's vote and insult against the Islamic system," he said Thursday, in a meeting with Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and other clerics. “Certain individuals committed this mortal sin by their refusal to bow to the law.”

Much more from Mousavi's interview below.

Mousavi struck a moderate tone. He did not explicitly repeat his challenge of the election results, in what could be interpreted as a softening of his position. He also offered conciliatory gestures toward those who don’t support the opposition, acknowledging those Iranians who are hostile or ambivalent toward his movement’s aims and methods.

"I oppose insulting those who disfavor the slogans of the Green Movement," he said. "Everyone is not supposed to be of our view. All Iranians, except a group of murderers and machete-wielders, are our brothers and sisters. Even military and police forces are our brothers and we know well they are forced to exercise violence."

But Mousavi harshly condemned the recent actions of Iran's authorities.

He dissected the mechanics of the Feb. 11 rally widely regarded as a victory for the hard-liners. The government, he said, "spent exorbitant amounts by mobilizing buses and trains across the country" and forced employees of state-run offices to attend the rally in an attempt to "eclipse" the presence of the green movement.

"This year's rally was engineered," he said in the interview.

"Never have so many military, police and security forces been deployed in the streets on the revolution anniversary," he said. "The violent and savage treatments in several spots in Tehran were unprecedented."

Despite the official show of force and mobilization, he said, Azadi Square, where the rally was held, remained relatively empty. He likened the government’s conduct to that of Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi, the deposed monarch who he said punished government employees who refused to publicly show support for him.

Still, Mousavi acknowledged that the rally was a defeat for the green movement, the opposition movement for which he has served as a figurehead since he ran and lost against Ahmadinejad in last year’s disputed presidential elections.

"The green movement missed a historic chance because the regime eclipsed its presence," he said. "However, it was much more harmful to the regime than the movement because covering up the reality will never result in [the movement’s] elimination. I'm sure that this massive crackdown will deepen and broaden the movement."

But beyond that, Mousavi offered little concrete guidance or tactical suggestions for an opposition movement that faces dark days ahead. This week, the head of the Tehran Revolutionary Guard announced plans to double the number of bases for the armed pro-government Basiji militia in the capital, especially in the northern and western districts that are considered hotbeds of opposition.

Mousavi instead reiterated his reformist political faction’s longstanding grievances against the Islamic Republic’s dominant hardliners.

"Following up on such issues as freedom, human rights, anti-discrimination campaign, tolerance of opposition and fight on corruption do not constitute any offense," he said. "And any opposition to these rightful demands indicates dictatorship and distortion of the Islamic revolution."

Mousavi added, "In case these demands are not met, the ongoing fall in the legitimacy of the regime will pick up speed."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Credit: Behrouz Mehri / AFP / Getty Images