Iran Police Swiftly Crush Protest

EDITOR'S NOTE: Iranian authorities have barred journalists for
international news organizations from reporting on the streets and
ordered them to stay in their offices. This report is based on the
accounts of witnesses reached in Iran and official statements
carried on Iranian media.
---

A flood of security forces using tear gas and clubs quickly
overwhelmed a small group of rock-throwing protesters near Iran's
parliament Wednesday, and the country's supreme leader said the
outcome of the disputed presidential election will stand - the
latest signs of the government's growing confidence in quelling
unrest on the streets.

As the election showdown has shifted, demonstrators are finding
themselves increasingly scattered and struggling under a blanket
crackdown that the wife of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi
compared to martial law. In Wednesday's clashes, thousands of
police crushed hundreds of Mousavi supporters.

The statement by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that the
June 12 election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would
not be reversed was accompanied by a vow that the nation's rulers
would never yield to demands from the streets.

Since last week's protests, the government has unleashed days of
escalating force, including the full weight of the powerful
Revolutionary Guard and its feared civilian militias on the
opposition.

Social networking sites carried claims of brutal tactics by
police such as savage beatings with batons, but the report could
not be independently confirmed.

In the battle for public opinion, the leaders also ramped up a
familiar smear campaign: that the opposition was being aided by the
United States and other perceived foes of Iran.

What began as groundswell protest of alleged vote fraud
increasingly appears to be splintering into random acts of rage and
frustration against emboldened and well-armed security forces
determined to hold their ground.

Many experts in Iranian affairs do not believe the dwindling
street protests signal an end for the challenges to Khamenei and
the regime. Many foresee lower-risk - but still potent - acts of
dissent such as general strikes, blocking traffic with sit-ins, and
the nightly cries of protest from rooftops and balconies.

"It will carry on until the regime changes: Weeks, months,
years. You'd be a fool to predict," said Robert Hunter, a former
U.S. ambassador to NATO and head of Middle East Affairs in the
Carter administration. "But the beast of the desire for something
different is on the prowl."

Senior Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad told The
Associated Press that he sees no "signs of Ahmadinejad's regime
collapsing any time soon."

"The intelligence community worldwide were surprised by the
protests," he said.

There are still signs of life in the protest movement. Small
groups battled police Wednesday and there were calls on reformist
Web sites for a gathering Thursday at the shrine of Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But Mousavi has increasingly turned his back on mass street
demonstrations, fearing the likelihood of more violence or deaths.

Wednesday's unrest showed the lopsided odds. Groups of
protesters - perhaps several hundred - tossed rocks and trash at
riot police in running clashes outside parliament. The
demonstrators fled as police used tear gas and fired in the air,
possibly with live ammunition.

Throughout the day, black-clad security agents and police
watched main streets and squares to prevent any major gatherings -
a stark difference from last week when authorities generally stood
aside and allowed a series of marches that brought more than 1
million people streaming through Tehran.

Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard - a former university dean who
campaigned beside her husband - said on a Web site that the
crackdown is "as if martial law has been imposed in the streets."

It also could be an indication of what's ahead - unless the
protest movement can recapture its momentum.

The fallout may leave Khamenei and the ruling theocracy battered
by once-unthinkable defiance of their leadership. But they still
control the Revolutionary Guard and its vast network of volunteer
militias that watch every corner of Iran.

The Guard - sworn to defend the Islamic system at all costs -
has been steadily expanding its authority for years to include
critical portfolios such as Iran's missile program, its oil
pipelines and other energy infrastructure, and some oversight of
the nuclear program.

Their stake in the Islamic system is deep and they appear now to
have the green light to move against any perceived threats.

Their militia wing, known as the Basij, can operate like a
neighbor-by-neighbor intelligence agency.

"The Revolutionary Guard may well emerge as the big winner of
all this," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy.

State television aired a documentary Wednesday lauding the
Revolutionary Guard and another show about the dangers of the
Internet and claiming that "Iran's enemies" were using the Web to
whip up dissent.

Dozens of activists, protesters and Iranian journalists - and at
least one foreign reporter - have been detained since the election,
human rights groups say. The overall death toll is not clear; state
media said at least 17 people have been killed. Amateur video
showed the death Saturday of a woman identified as Neda Agha
Soltan, who has become a worldwide symbol of the bloodshed.

A 53-year-old Tehran woman described the intense security around
Baharestan Square near parliament: "There was a lot of police,
riot police and Basiji everywhere." The woman spoke by phone to
the AP, asking for anonymity because of fears of reprisals from
authorities.

The chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan,
told a closed session of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee that he believes the demonstrations in Iran would
die down and Ahmadinejad would stay in power.

He also said the Mossad expects Iran to have nuclear weapons by
2014. Meir's statements were recounted by a participant in the
meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was
closed.

The United States and its allies worry that Iran's program could
lead to nuclear weapons, but Iran insists it only seeks peaceful
reactors to produce electricity.

President Barack Obama has offered to open talks with Iran's
leaders to ease a nearly 30-year diplomatic estrangement. But he
sharpened his rhetoric Tuesday, saying he was "appalled and
outraged" by Tehran's heavy hand against protesters.

It's not clear how the unrest - Iran's worst internal turmoil
since the Islamic Revolution - would influence possible talks with
Washington. It's clear, however, that the leadership has no
intention of abandoning Ahmadinejad.

An offer for Iranian envoys around the world to attend U.S.
Embassy Fourth of July parties has been rescinded "given the
events of the past many days," said White House spokesman Robert
Gibbs. The invitation was part of a U.S. outreach to Iran, but so
far no Iranian officials had accepted.

Khamenei said the government would not buckle to pressures over
the election, closing the door to compromise over Mousavi's claim
that the vote was rigged and he was the rightful winner.

"On the current situation, I was insisting and will insist on
implementation of the law. That means, we will not go one step
beyond the law," Khamenei said on state television. "For sure,
neither the system nor the people will give in to pressures at any
price." He used language that indicated he was referring to
domestic pressures.

A conservative candidate in the disputed election, Mohsen
Rezaie, said he was withdrawing his complaints about vote fraud for
the sake of the country, state TV reported. Rezaie is a former
commander of Revolutionary Guard and his decision suggests the
Guard seeks to avoid possible rifts as Ahmadinejad begins his
second, four-year term.

State TV reported that Ahmadinejad would be sworn in between
July 26 and Aug. 19.

Khamenei also reinforced Iran's accusations that the United
States, Britain and other foreign powers were encouraging the
unrest - apparently part of a coordinated strategy to disgrace
Mousavi and his followers.

State television showed detained demonstrators whose faces were
blurred out. Some of them made "confessions," saying they had
been incited by the British Broadcasting Corp. and Voice of
America. They said demonstrators, not security forces, had used
violence.

"We torched public property, threw stones, attacked cars and
smashed windows," said one woman, who was not identified.

State-run Press TV also said police raided a building it
identified as a Mousavi campaign office and allegedly used as a
base to promote unrest. The report said the suspected plotters had
been arrested and placed under investigation.


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