Iran opposition defies ayatollah, plans protests

Iran’s opposition Friday called for a major new protest over the disputed presidential election, defying a demand by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and setting the stage for a potentially violent showdown in the streets with security forces and militias.

Defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi circumvented regime efforts to block Internet access by announcing the rallies on his Facebook page in Farsi and in English on Friday. “CRUCIAL Demonstration on Saturday 16:00 in Tehran and all around the world, please spread this message around,” it said.

Messages urging the public to converge Saturday for the march through the capital also flooded Twitter, and after dark on Friday, Tehranis took to the rooftops to cry “God is great” and “Death to the dictator” in what Iranian bloggers said were numbers exceeding previous nights.

The sermon by the unelected Khamenei, who wields nearly absolutely power under Iran’s constitution, ended any doubt about his alignment with hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And it made clear he wasn’t open to finding a compromise on Mousavi’s demand to annul the election based on claims that it was marred by massive rigging.

“I have one vote. I have given it to Mousavi. I have one life. I will give it for freedom,” one Twitter post said.

Khamenei, 69, appeared to have miscalculated if he thought he could cow the opposition with his tough speech, said Mohammad Sahimi, an Iranian-American professor of chemical engineering at the University of Southern California and political analyst.

“I think he has polarized the society far more than it was because he made clear what his preference is and where he stands and who he supports,” Sahimi said. The opposition is “openly defying this guy. In the short run, it may it lead to violence.”

Khamenei demanded an end to the protests in an uncompromising Friday sermon. In it, he endorsed Ahmadinejad’s June 12 landslide re-election, dismissed charges that the result was fixed and signaled that a major crackdown would be launched if his order for the protests to stop wasn’t obeyed.

“Political party leaders should be very careful about what they say and do,” Khamenei told tens of thousands at Tehran University, a center of the anti-government movement, as Ahmadinejad and other senior official looked on. “They will be responsible for any bloodshed and any form of unrest.”

“I will not allow any illegal initiative. If the laws are broken today, no election will be immune in the future,” Khamenei said, according to an English translation aired by Press TV, the English-language version of state-run television.

In an apparent bid to discredit the swelling opposition movement, Khamenei accused the United States, European powers and Israel of fomenting the worst political turmoil to convulse this nation of 67 million since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the late shah, Reza Pahlavi.