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Iran's top leader warns against further protests, calls June 12 vote a 'definitive victory'
Iran's supreme leader said Friday that Iran's disputed presidential vote had not been rigged, sternly warning protesters to halt massive demonstrations demanding a new election or be held responsible for creating chaos.
Ayatollah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sided with hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offered no concessions to the opposition. He effectively closed any chance for a new vote by calling the June 12 election a "definitive victory."
The speech created a stark choice for candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters: drop their demands for a new vote or take to the streets again in blatant defiance of the man endowed with virtually limitless powers under Iran's constitution.
Khamenei blamed foreign media and Western countries of trying to create a political rift and stir up chaos in Iran.
"Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory," he said, according to an official translation on state TV's English-language channel. "It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it."
Khamenei said the 11 million votes that separated Ahmadinejad from his top opponent, Mousavi, was proof that fraud did not occur.
"If the difference as 100,000 or 200,000 or 1 million, one may say fraud could happen. But how can one rig 11 million votes?" Khamenei asked during Friday prayers at Tehran University.
Mousavi and his supporters have staged massive street rallies in recent days that have posed the greatest challenge to the Iran's Islamic ruling system since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought it to power.
So far, the government has mostly allowed the protests to take place. But Khamenei opened the door for a much harder crackdown.
"It must be determined at the ballot box what the people want and what they don't want, not in the streets," he said. "I call on all to put an end to this method. ... If they don't, they will be held responsible for the chaos and the consequences."
Khamenei blamed Great Britain and Iran's external enemies for fomenting unrest and said Iran would not see a second revolution like those that transformed the countries of the former Soviet Union.
He remained staunch in his defense of Ahmadinejad, who attended Friday's prayers, saying his views were closer to the president's than to those of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful patron of Mousavi.
Khamenei's address was his first since hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters flooded the streets in Tehran and elsewhere in the country in rallies evoking the revolution that ended Iran's U.S.-backed monarchy. On Thursday, supporters dressed in black and green flooded downtown Tehran in a somber, candlelit show of mourning for those who have been killed in clashes since Friday's vote.
Khamenei said the street protests would not have any impact.
"Some may imagine that street action will create political leverage against the system and force the authorities to give in to threats. No, this is wrong," he said.
The supreme leader left open a small window for a legal challenge to the vote. He reiterated that he has ordered the Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 clerics and Islamic law experts close to the supreme leader, to investigate voter fraud claims.
The Council has said it was prepared to conduct a limited recount of ballots at sites where candidates claim irregularities.
He stressed that the four candidates were part of the country's Islamic system reminded listeners that Mousavi was prime minister of Iran when Khamenei was president in the 1980s.
"All of them belong to the system. It was a competition within the ruling system," he said.
So far, protesters have focused on the results of the balloting rather than challenging the Islamic system of government. But a shift in anger toward Iran's non-elected theocracy could result in a showdown over the foundation of Iran's system of rule.
Ahmadinejad has appeared to take the growing opposition more seriously in recent days, backtracking Thursday on his dismissal of the protesters as "dust" and sore losers.
The crowds in Tehran and elsewhere have been able to organize despite a government clampdown on the Internet and cell phones. The government has blocked certain Web sites, such as BBC Farsi, Facebook, Twitter and several pro-Mousavi sites that are vital conduits for Iranians to tell the world about protests and violence.
Text messaging, which is a primary source of spreading information in Tehran, has not been working since last week, and cell phone service in Tehran is frequently down. The government also has barred foreign news organizations from reporting on Tehran's streets.
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