Monday, June 15, 2009

Hardliners open fire on defiant protesters as tension grips Tehran

Tehran was a tinderbox last night after government paramilitaries started shooting following a huge public protest against last Friday’s disputed re-election of President Ahmadinejad.

Members of the Basij, a force of young Islamic hardliners, killed one demonstrator and wounded several more when their building was attacked as tens of thousands of protesters dispersed from a rally against election fraud held in defiance of a government ban.

In another incident a witness told The Times how she watched from her car as riot police on six motorbikes opened fire on youths walking under a bridge after the rally. “The riot police started shooting them with big guns,” she said. “It wasn’t like the films where there is just a small hole — the shooting was blowing off hands, limbs. It was terrible, terrible.”

Gunfire was heard in at least three other districts of the Iranian capital. The Ministry of the Interior was rumoured to have authorised the use of live ammunition as the regime struggled to maintain control. Supporters of the defeated candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, fought running battles with the police and Basiji, who have flooded into Tehran.

Mr Mousavi emerged from hiding for the first time since the election results were announced to address the rally. He told the crowd packed into Azadi (Freedom) Square: “God willing, we will take back our rights.” Newly emboldened, the protesters brought out their green ribbons and bandanas and chanted: “Mousavi we support you”, and “We will die, but retrieve our votes”. The show of strength boosted Mr Mousavi’s supporters, who have called for another rally and a general strike today. Demonstrations have also been reported in the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz, Mashad and Ahvaz

The regime showed its first sign of alarm when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, who at the weekend hailed the result as a “divine assessment”, instructed the Guardian Council of 12 senior clerics to investigate allegations that the election was rigged. However, the move was seen widely as a ruse to buy time.

The regime’s violent response to the biggest political crisis in the Islamic Republic's 30-year history has triggered a growing international backlash. Gordon Brown warned Iran that the way it responded to legitimate protests would affect its relations with the rest of the world. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, expressed concern at “what seems to be state violence against its own people”.

President Obama said he was “deeply troubled” by the violence, and Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, urged the regime to respect the “genuine will” of the Iranian people.

Pakistan Army Chief Rallies Troops in Northwest Offensive

By VOA News
Pakistan's army chief has rallied support for the military's ongoing offensive against the Taliban, flying over the battle zone in a fighter plane and giving a televised address.
A day after officials said the military is planning to target the Taliban stronghold in South Waziristan, General Ashfaq Kayani said the offensive is aimed at bringing militants to what he called the right path. He said prominent Taliban leaders are not Islamic scholars, but enemies of the country and Islam.
In remarks broadcast on private Pakistani television networks, he also highlighted the need to avoid civilian casualties.
While the military has not reported new fighting in South Waziristan, reports from the region indicate some civilians have begun fleeing their homes in anticipation of clashes.South Waziristan is the home of top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.On Sunday, the governor of North West Frontier Province, Owais Ghani, said the government felt it had no choice but to resort to force against Mehsud in his South Waziristan stronghold, near the Afghan border.Mehsud has claimed responsibility for many attacks across Pakistan in recent months, including suicide bombings. He is believed to be a key link between Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida militants. On Monday, Pakistan's military says its forces are continuing an offensive against Taliban fighters in the northwest, killing six suspected militants in the last 24 hours.The army reported clashes with militants in the greater Swat valley, as well as Taliban positions in Bannu. In Dir, the army says a civilian militia killed five suspected militants in recent fighting.