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Ahmadinejad tells Arab leaders: respect protesters

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose security forces crushed protests against his 2009 re-election, Wednesday condemned state brutality against demonstrators in Libya.

Speaking for the first time about this year’s Arab uprisings, Ahmadinejad expressed horror at the use of extreme violence and urged governments to listen to their people.

“How can a leader subject his own people to a shower of machine-guns, tanks and bombs? How can a leader bomb his own people, and afterwards say ‘I will kill anyone who says anything?’” he said in televised comments.

The Iranian president was speaking a day after Libyan protesters said they were attacked by tanks and warplanes. Leader Muammar Gaddafi said protesters deserved the death sentence, and vowed to die a martyr rather than step down.

“I seriously want -- from all heads of states -- to pay attention to their people and cooperate, to sit down and talk, and listen to their words. Why do they act so badly that their people need to apply pressure for reforms?” Ahmadinejad said.

Tehran has welcomed Arab uprisings like those in Tunisia and Egypt as an “Islamic awakening” against despotic rulers.

U.S. President Barack Obama called this ironic as Tehran had “acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully.”

Opposition supporters inside Iran say their own rallies -- where two people have died this month -- have once again been crushed by security forces.

Before staging a rally on February 14, Iran’s opposition Green movement had not held any protests since December 2009 when eight people were killed in clashes with security forces, ending months of huge demonstrations against the June 2009 election that gave Ahmadinejad a second term.

Tehran denied opposition accusations that the vote was rigged and accused the Green movement of trying to overthrow the Islamic system with the backing of Iran’s foreign enemies.

It has blamed this month’s deaths on “terrorist” elements among protesters, and members of parliament have called for the arrest and execution of the reformist leaders who called for the protests to show their support for events in North Africa.

Both sides of Iran’s political divide have tried to make capital from the uprisings, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailing revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as a continuation of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which overthrew a U.S.-backed monarch and established Shi’ite Muslim clerical rule.

In Egypt, the most populous country in the predominantly Sunni Muslim Arab region which has historically viewed Persian Shi’ite Iran as an adversary, the Muslim Brotherhood said it did not deem the uprising to be an Islamic revolution.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan