Bloody clashes broke out in Tehran yesterday as Iran's supreme leader said he would not yield to pressure over the disputed election. The renewed confrontation took place in Baharestan Square, near parliament, where hundreds of protesters faced off against several thousand riot police and other security personnel.
Witnesses likened the scene to a war zone, with helicopters hovering overhead, many arrests and the police beating demonstrators.
One woman told CNN that hundreds of unidentified men armed with clubs had emerged from a mosque to confront the protesters.
"They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood and her husband fainted. They were beating people like hell. It was a massacre," she said.
The opposition website Rooz Online carried what it said was an interview with a man the government had shipped in to Tehran to quell the demonstrations. He said he was being paid 2m rial (£122) to assault protesters with a heavy wooden stave, and that other volunteers, most of them from far-flung provinces, were being kept in hostel accommodation, reportedly in east Tehran.
With the independent media banned from covering street protests, the reports could not be verified.
There were also unconfirmed reports tonight that Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, had been arrested. Earlier in the day she had called on the authorities to release Iranians who had been detained.
With so much of this being difficult to verify, it's only natural to err on the side of the protesters since it is the government that is preventing journalists from doing their job.
✩ Obama now playing hard to get with Iran?: Laura Rozen on the Obama administration's change of tactics towards Iran.
✩ Egypt's reaction to protests: Our own Ursula Lindsey reports on conflicting Egyptian attitudes to the protests.
✩ Mapping the protests in Tehran: cool interactive map of Tehran protests with pics.
✩ Will Iran be President Obama's Iraq?: The Leveretts debunk some myths on Iran, including the assertion that Ahmedinejad definitely stole the elections. They notably tackle the problems with allegations of up to 140% of votes cast in certain constituencies and the Chatham House analysis of the elections:
In response to fraud allegations, the Ministry of the Interior has, for the first time ever, published the results of each of the 45,713 ballot boxes. With the personal information for all the nearly 40 million voters in the election registered on a computer database and each voter’s fingerprints on his or her ballot stub, it is clear where people voted, and each vote can be accounted for.
The Guardian Council — tasked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to review alleged electoral irregularities — has acknowledged that the number of votes cast in 50 towns exceeded the number of eligible voters residing in those communities; roughly 3 million votes fall into that category.
But this is not unusual: Iranian citizens may vote in presidential elections anywhere in the country. Since the election took place on the Iranian weekend, many people had left their homes for their hometowns and villages and cast their votes there. Thus, in some places, the number of votes exceeded the number of resident, eligible voters.
Recently, spot analyses by scholars from the University of Michigan and the Royal Institute of International Affairs suggested that this year’s election results are out of line with previous presidential elections. These analyses compare this year’s results with the first round of the 2005 presidential election, when Ahmadinejad and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani outpolled other candidates to move into a runoff. Viewed through that prism, Ahmadinejad’s 2009 tally seems inflated.
But the comparison is structurally flawed. It is tantamount to arguing that, because Barack Obama won 38 percent of the vote in a competitive, multicandidate caucus in Iowa in January 2008, it is implausible that he could have won 54 percent of that state’s vote in the two-person general election in November. A more appropriate comparison for this year’s results in Iran would be the second round of the 2005 presidential election, when Ahmadinejad trounced Rafsanjani.
From the outset, this year’s presidential contest was effectively a two-man race, notwithstanding two other candidates’ presence on the ballot. In that context, Ahmadinejad’s second-round vote share in 2005 (61.7 percent) was essentially indistinguishable from the percentage of the vote he won this year (62.6 percent).
The Leveretts also dispute the idea that the regime is close to collapse or has been delegitimized.
✩ BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman interviews Roxana Saberi
✩ Has the U.S. Played a Role in Fomenting Unrest During Iran’s Election?: This question, unfortunately, must be asked since regime change in Iran has long been a US policy and, under the Bush administration at least, money was channeled to anti-regime groups inside and outside Iran. One important thing to remember, however, is that even if there are agitators seeking taking opportunity, the size of the protests makes it clear that this is more than just opposition groups - it's a genuine popular uprising.
✩ Iran in the Gulf: Great blog providing translations from the Iranian media and pro-protests publications.
✩ Neda Soltan's family 'forced out of home' by Iranian authorities: Family of girl whose death was filmed further persecuted - this incredible pettiness and lack of respect shows how disgusting this regime is:
Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said.
"We just know that they [the family] were forced to leave their flat," a neighbour said. The Guardian was unable to contact the family directly to confirm if they had been forced to leave.
The government is also accusing protesters of killing Soltan, describing her as a martyr of the Basij militia. Javan, a pro-government newspaper, has gone so far as to blame the recently expelled BBC correspondent, Jon Leyne, of hiring "thugs" to shoot her so he could make a documentary film.