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Ahmadinejad says Iran election was world's "freest"

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday the disputed presidential election was the world’s “freest” vote, while opposition leaders criticized the “security state” imposed after the polls.

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The hardline president, in his first speech since the official confirmation of his re-election in the June 12 vote, said the election marked a new start for the country, and the government was entering a “new era.”

“The presidential election was the freest election around the globe ... The new government is entering a new era, internationally and domestically,” Ahmadinejad said.

“The election was a new start for the Islamic Republic.”

Iranian authorities accuse the West, particularly the United States and Britain, of inciting unrest in the country after the election, whose disputed result led to the most widespread street protests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Ahmadinejad also accused western countries of interference in the election, which moderate defeated candidates have denounced as rigged.

“Our foreign enemies (the West) tried to show the vote was dubious to undermine our potential in the world,” he said. “They should know that the more they interfere, the more we will enter the international scene with strength and decisiveness.”

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Opposition leaders urged the authorities to release people arrested after the election and criticized the “security state” imposed in Iran.

“Mehdi Karoubi, (Mirhossein) Mousavi and (former president Mohammad) Khatami met on Monday and underlined the importance of ending the security state imposed in the country and also demanded the immediate release of detained protesters,” Mousavi’s website said on Tuesday.

Mousavi, the leading moderate candidate in the election, and Karoubi said the post-election crackdown on pro-reform Iranians should stop. They have repeatedly said Ahmadinejad’s new government was “illegitimate.”

“The continuation of arrests and the imposed security state will lead to a more radicalized political atmosphere,” they said, adding that the “wave of arrests should end.”

Iranian state media have reported 20 people killed in protests since the election. Authorities say more than 1,000 people were arrested during the demonstrations in Tehran, though most have been released.

Human rights activists say 2,000 people, including opposition leaders, academics, journalists and students may still be in detention.

Mousavi has called on his supporters to maintain “calm and self-restraint.”

“Respecting legal frameworks is extremely important for us. We should show our protest in a lawful way,” his website quoted Mousavi as saying at another meeting on Monday.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi, editing by Tim Pearce