TEHRAN, Iran – Supporters of the main election challenger to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed with police and set up barricades of burning tires Saturday as authorities claimed the hard-line president was re-elected in a landslide. The rival candidate said the vote was tainted by widespread fraud and his followers responded with the most serious unrest in the capital in a decade.
By nightfall, cell phone service appeared to have been cut in the capital Tehran. And Ahmadinejad, in a nationally televised victory speech, accused the foreign media of coverage that harms the Iranian people. There was more rioting at night and fires continued to burn on the streets of Tehran.
Several hundred demonstrators — many wearing the trademark green colors of pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign — chanted “the government lied to the people” and gathered near the Interior Ministry as the final count from Friday’s presidential election was announced.
It gave 62.6 percent of the vote to Ahmadinejad and 33.75 to Mousavi — a former prime minister who has become the hero of a youth-driven movement seeking greater liberties and a gentler face for Iran abroad.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, closed the door on any chance he could use his limitless powers to intervene in the disputes from Friday’s election. In a message on state TV, he urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad, calling the result a “divine assessment.”
Mousavi rejected the result as rigged and urged his supporters to resist a government of “lies and dictatorship.”
“I’m warning that I won’t surrender to this manipulation,” said a statement on Mousavi’s Web site. “The outcome of what we’ve seen from the performance of officials … is nothing but shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s sacred system and governance of lies and dictatorship,” it added.
Mousavi warned “people won’t respect those who take power through fraud.” The headline on one of his Web sites read: “I won’t give in to this dangerous manipulation.”