Iran update -- "Street challenge is not acceptable."
In his first public response to days of mass protests, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sternly warned opposition supporters on Friday to stay off the streets and raised the prospect of violence if the defiant, vast demonstrations continued.
Opposition leaders, he said, will be “responsible for bloodshed and chaos” if they do not stop further rallies.
He said he would never give in to “illegal pressures” and denied their accusations that last week’s presidential election was rigged, praising the officially declared landslide for the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as an “epic moment that became a historic moment.”
He spoke somberly for more than an hour and a half at Friday Prayer to tens of thousands of people at Tehran University, with Mr. Ahmadinejad in attendance. His sermon was broadcast over loudspeakers to throngs in the adjoining streets, and the crowds erupted repeatedly in roars of support. Opposition supporters had spread the word among themselves not to attend.
“Street challenge is not acceptable,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to a rendering by the BBC. “This questions the principles of election and democracy.”
There was no immediate response from opposition leaders.
The ominous speech sharply increased the confrontation between Iran’s rulers and supporters of the main opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, who have accused the authorities of rigging the vote and called for or encouraged the huge silent marches in Tehran for the last four days. No rally was planned for Friday, and opposition supporters did not appear to be gathering impromptu.
Now we wondered why the protesters would "take a day off" after spending four days applying pressure to the regime. The longer they keep this up, the more the pressure mounts on the regime. But then it sort of became clear why they probably decided to keep it quiet today:
The daytime protests across the Islamic republic have been largely peaceful. But Iranians shudder at the violence unleashed in their cities at night, with the shadowy vigilantes known as Basijis beating, looting and sometimes gunning down protesters they tracked during the day.
The vigilantes plan to take their fight into the daylight on Friday, with the public relations department of Ansar Hezbollah, the most public face of the Basij, announcing that they planned a public demonstration to expose the “seditious conspiracy” being carried out by “agitating hooligans.”
“We invite the vigilant people who are always in the arena to make their loud objections heard in response to the babbling of this tribe,” said the announcement, carried on the Web site Parsine.
The announcement could be the first indication that the government was taking its gloves off, Iranian analysts noted, because up to this point the Basijis, usually deployed as the shock troops to end any public protests, have been working in stealth.
“It is the special brigades of the Revolutionary Guards who right now, especially at night, trap young demonstrators and kill them,” said Mohsen Sazegara, an Iranian exile who helped write the charter for the newly formed Revolutionary Guards in 1979 when he was a young aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. “That is one way the regime avoids the responsibility for these murders. It can say, ‘We don’t know who they are.’ ”
The death toll now stands at 13, said Shahram Kholdi, a graduate student at the University of Manchester in England, who is building a Web site to track all killings.
Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition presidential candidate leading the fight to overturn the results of last week’s presidential campaign, published two letters on his Web site on Thursday decrying the violence being carried out by the Basij.
In one letter, he said an otherwise peaceful day of protest last Monday had been sullied when seven people were killed, although he did not name the Basij directly.
“They tried to turn the sweetness of this most glorious gathering into beastly confrontations to leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the lovers of Iran,” he wrote. Calling the vigilantes the “disciples of fraud and lies,” he said they destroy both public and private property to spread fear and chaos and to give the police an excuse to crack down on peaceful demonstrators.
In the second letter, to the National Security Council, he went further in depicting the vigilantes’ role as agents provocateurs.
Saying that the Basijis lack uniforms, proper identification or anything that denotes them as public employees, he said they appeared with hoses, clubs, iron bars, truncheons and sometimes firearms.
“Just before the police show up they attack the demonstrations,” he wrote. “They try to provoke the demonstrators and they destroy people’s property and vehicles.” Mr. Moussavi said the security forces did nothing to stop them.
For those unaware of the Basiji I recommend this piece in The New Republic by Matthias Kuntzel about the Basiji, and their direct ties to Ahmadinejad. These aren't pleasant people, and we know these will be the ones continuing their assault on the protesters. This tells us the regime is done playing games with the citizens, and any further protests will result in violence. Considering the fact foreign journalists are basically under a form of house arrest, and their stories are subject to scrutiny by the regime, now would be the ideal time for a Tianamen-like retaliation by the regime.