CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Iran’s supreme religious leader threw his weight behind the disputed landslide victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday, calling the vote “God’s blessing,” ruling out any fraud, and ordering an end to massive street protests. In what may prove a pivotal point in the post-election crisis that has shaken Iran for nearly a week, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei took an uncompromising stand at Friday prayers. “If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible,” declared Ayatollah Khomeini, speaking to an overflowing crowd of tens of thousands at Tehran University that was bolstered by a large contingent of basiji ideological militiamen. Defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has brought hundreds of thousands of Iranians onto the streets for peaceful protest in recent days, harnessing public outrage that first burst into riots and clashes when results were announced last Saturday. Another march is slated for this Saturday, though it has already been declared illegal by authorities – as have each of the previous rallies. But now all future marches will be higher stakes and held in direct defiance of Iran’s most powerful authority. “This was expected. All these activities of last week, the restrictions and repressive measures, all point to one thing: no compromise, to an iron fist,” says a political analyst in Tehran who could not be named for security reasons. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: But opposition leaders, who stayed home Friday, called for yet another huge rally on Saturday afternoon, setting the stage for a possible showdown between protesters and security forces, perhaps a violent one. The sermon put Ayatollah Khamenei, who prefers to govern quietly and from behind the scenes, at the forefront of a confrontation not only among factions of the government but among Iranians themselves. It also presents Mir Hussein Moussavi, whom the opposition says was the real winner of last Friday’s elections, with an excruciating choice. The former prime minister and long-time insider must decide whether to escalate his challenge to Iran’s supreme leader and risk a bloody showdown, or abandon his support for a popular uprising that his candidacy inspired. MORE
TIMES OF LONDON: The moderate Iranian leader who says that he was robbed of victory in last week’s presidential election faces a fateful choice today: support the regime or be cast out. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has told Mir Hossein Mousavi to stand beside him as he uses Friday prayers at Tehran University to call for national unity. An army of Basiji — Islamic volunteer militiamen — is also expected to be bussed in to support the Supreme Leader. MORE
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Mousavi did NOT stand beside Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during morning prayers.
NEW YORK TIMES: There’s been some debate about whether correspondents, caught in an affluent North Tehran bubble, might be underestimating President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s support. I don’t doubt that his piety, patronage and populism secured him many millions of votes. He personifies a defiant nationalism, symbolized by Iran’s nuclear program. But a genuine victory with almost two-thirds of the vote would not require the imposition of near-martial law to secure it. […] As rigging goes, this looks amateurish. The Iranian regime is not amateurish. So the mess suggests scrambling to me, an eleventh-hour decision that the surge in Moussavi’s support — the “green wave” — was too massive to tolerate. MORE
THE GUARDIAN: Four years on, however, young Iranians have sloughed off that apathy and headed into the streets in their thousands, to wage passionate protest against an election they consider fraudulent. Young people who did not even bother to vote in 2005 are braving serious reprisals to support Mir Hossein Mousavi, the man they believe should have won power; Facebook martyrs co-opting the regime’s own ideology of martyrdom to incite even greater fury and protest. So what has changed in Iran to bring about this remarkable shift? The answer lies partly in Ahmadinejad’s tenure as president, an era that has raised the misery quotient of most Iranians, regardless of class, age or ethnic background. But the scale of the protests being held across Iran today also suggests a despair that is more deep-rooted than simply outrage over what they see as a stolen election. In my view, it also reflects a fundamental antipathy toward a revolutionary regime that Iranians have grown to consider unaccountable, indifferent to the rule of law, corrupt and incapable of meeting its people’s basic needs. MORE
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STEPHEN COLBERT: “In recent days Iran has fallen into complete chaos over the Iranian presidential election, which pitted the incumbent president against the reformer, Mir-Hussein-in-the-Membrane Mousavi. You can tell he’s the reformer for two reasons. One, he chants ‘Terminal illness to America,’ and he only wants to wipe Israel off Google Earth.”
[Photo via BIG PICTURE]
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Basiji [PICTURED, ABOVE] are the regime’s de facto goon squad. They are the plainclothes guys you see on motorcycles wielding bats and batons, cracking open the skulls of protesters on the streets and storming the universities and attacking students. You can see some of their handiwork HERE. From Wikipedia:
Human Rights Watch has reported that the Basij belong to the “Parallel institutions” (nahad-e movazi), “the quasi-official organs of repression that have become increasingly open in crushing student protests, detaining activists, writers, and journalists in secret prisons, and threatening pro-democracy speakers and audiences at public events.” Under the control of the Office of the Supreme Leader these groups set up arbitrary checkpoints around Tehran, uniformed police often refraining from directly confronting these plainclothes agents. “Illegal prisons, which are outside of the oversight of the National Prisons Office, are sites where political prisoners are abused, intimidated, and tortured with impunity.”
Seven protesters were reportedly shot dead by Basiji snipers during the massive demonstration in Tehran on Monday. This appears to be footage of stone-throwing demonstrators retaliating at Basiji headquarters. A Basiji sniper begins firing on the demonstraters, chaos ensues and the footage ends with the image of a demonstrator lying in the street with a gunshot wound to the stomach. Intense.