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After partial recount, Iran council stands by vote results

Election called valid, despite some errors

MIR HOSSEIN MOUSAVI The opposition leader wants a new vote but Iran's Guardian Council says it has closed the file on the presidential election. MIR HOSSEIN MOUSAVI
The opposition leader wants a new vote but Iran's Guardian Council says it has closed the file on the presidential election.
By Jim Heintz
Associated Press / June 30, 2009
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Iranian authorities have barred journalists for international news organizations from reporting on the streets and ordered them to stay in their offices. This report is based on the accounts of witnesses reached in Iran and official statements carried on Iranian media.

Iran’s election oversight body yesterday declared the hotly disputed presidential vote to be valid after a partial recount, rejecting opposition allegations of fraud and further silencing calls for a new vote.

State television reported that the Guardian Council presented the conclusion in a letter to the interior minister following a recount of a what was described as a randomly selected 10 percent of the almost 40 million ballots cast June 12.

The “meticulous and comprehensive examination’’ revealed only “slight irregularities that are common to any election and needless of attention,’’ Guardian Council head Ahmad Jannati said in a letter, according to the state TV channel IRIB.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi claims he, not incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was the rightful winner and has called for a new election, something the government has repeatedly said it will not do. “From today on, the file on the presidential election has been closed,’’ Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said on state-run Press TV.

Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets in protest after the election, outraged by official results that gave Ahmadinejad the victory by a roughly 2-to-1 margin. Police and the feared Basij militia have taken increasingly harsh measures against the demonstrators, prompting widespread international criticism.

The recount conducted yesterday had appeared to be an attempt to cultivate the image that Iran was seriously addressing fraud claims, while giving no ground in the clampdown on opposition. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the council already had pronounced the results free of major fraud and insisted that Ahmadinejad won by a landslide. And even if errors were found in nearly every one of the votes in the recount Ahmadinejad, according to the government’s count, still would have tallied more votes than Mousavi.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton questioned the recount’s utility.

“They have a huge credibility gap with their own people as to the election process. And I don’t think that’s going to disappear by any finding of a limited review of a relatively small number of ballots,’’ she told reporters in Washington. Asked if the United States would recognize Ahmadinejad as Iran’s legitimate president, she said “We’re going to take this a day at a time.’’

News of the partial recount comes as Ahmadinejad yesterday ordered an investigation of the killing of a woman on the fringes of a protest. Widely circulated video footage of Neda Agha Soltan bleeding to death on a Tehran street sparked outrage worldwide over authorities’ harsh response to demonstrations.

Ahmadinejad’s website said Soltan was slain by “unknown agents and in a suspicious’’ way, convincing him that “enemies of the nation’’ were responsible.

The developments appear to show that Iran’s leaders are concerned about international anger over the election and opposition at home that could be sustained and widespread, but is trying to portray the country as victimized by foreign powers.

Tensions escalated Sunday when Iran announced it had detained nine local employees of the British Embassy on suspicion of fomenting or aiding protests. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said yesterday that five of the Iranian embassy staffers had been released and the remaining four were being interrogated.

Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, said Iran’s actions were “unacceptable, unjustified, and without foundation.’’ Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said Group of Eight leaders meeting next week in Italy will discuss possible sanctions against Iran.