TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran accused the United States of trying to destabilize it and sparked a new row with Britain on Sunday, underscoring the hardline leadership’s efforts to blame post-election unrest on foreign powers rather than popular anger.
(Editors’ note: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.)
Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei rejected allegations of vote-rigging in this month’s presidential election, which unleashed the biggest street protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“I am announcing that no organized rigging which could affect the result of the election took place,” he said.
“Americans and the Zionists (Israel) wanted to destabilize Iran ... Even months before the election they started to talk about the possibility of vote-rigging in Iran, and they continue this path after the election,” the minister said.
Mohseni-Ejei said the United States and Britain wanted to carry out a “velvet revolution” in Iran but declared that this was impossible. “People are wise and they are very close to their system,” he said.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband demanded the release of several local British embassy staff detained by Iran, and said his European Union colleagues had agreed to a “strong, collective response” to any such “harassment and intimidation” against EU missions.
He said Iranian accusations that embassy staff had helped foment unrest were “wholly without foundation.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei again denounced “interfering statements” by Western officials since the June 12 election.
“If the (Iranian) nation and officials are unanimous and united, then the temptations of international ill-wishers and interfering and cruel politicians will no longer have an impact,” state radio quoted him as saying.
The United States and Britain reject accusations by Tehran of interference in this month’s vote, which official results showed was won by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
His main challenger, moderate former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi, says the vote was rigged and that the election should be annulled.
The West is at odds with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as its handling of the unrest.
The streets of Tehran have sunk back into a sullen calm since riot police and religious Basij militia crushed huge demonstrations in which at least 20 people were killed.
“Everybody is depressed, everybody is afraid,” said one Mousavi voter in his 20s in northern Tehran.
On Sunday, one witness said riot police armed with batons and members of the Basij militia scuffled with some of more than 1,000 pro-reform Iranians who gathered outside Tehran’s Qoba mosque to mark the anniversary of a 1981 bombing that killed dozens of senior officials.
The report could not be independently confirmed because of reporting restrictions on foreign press but an ally of election runner-up Mousavi played down the incident, saying only a small group had gathered amid a strong police presence.
Video posted on the Internet with Sunday’s date and supposedly shot outside the mosque showed a crowd chanting Mousavi’s name. Another video posting showed a crowd purportedly walking down Shariati Avenue, near the mosque, chanting “Proud Iranians support us” and anti-government slogans.
A senior Western diplomat said Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and their allies had achieved a short-term victory and were determined to press their advantage over dissenters.
“It is a system which has been challenged and which now strikes back,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.
“Obviously the regime is trying to preserve its position by very harsh repression. But that cannot hide the fact that this is a weakened regime. It has lost legitimacy both internally and externally,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country takes over the EU presidency on Wednesday.
Official results showing Ahmadinejad won re-election by a landslide were greeted with disbelief by many Iranians, who agreed with complaints by Mousavi that the vote was rigged.
Mousavi has repeated demands for the election to be rerun, in defiance of Khamenei, who declared the poll fair, but his options for any further challenge appear to be dwindling.
The Guardian Council, Iran’s top legislative body, is due to give its final verdict on the election and could rule on Monday.
The 12-man body has offered a partial recount -- rejected by Mousavi and fellow-candidate Mehdi Karoubi -- but it has already described the poll as the healthiest since the revolution.
Influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, seen by analysts as a possible mediator in any effort to defuse the election row, called for a thorough examination of complaints.
He praised a decision by Khamenei last week to extend a deadline for the Guardian Council to look into objections by defeated candidates, the ISNA news agency reported.
“I hope those who are involved in this issue thoroughly and fairly review and study the legal complaints,” Rafsanjani said.
Breaking his post-election silence, he described events after the vote as a conspiracy by suspicious elements aimed at dividing people and the Islamic system, and also targeting people’s trust in it.
“Wherever the people entered the scene with full alertness, such plots were foiled,” the ISNA and IRNA news agencies quoted him as saying.
Rafsanjani, who has occupied key posts since the founding of the Islamic Republic, backed Mousavi’s election campaign and was fiercely criticized by Ahmadinejad on television.