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Iran declares win for Ahmadinejad in disputed vote

TEHRAN, Iran - Supporters of the main election challengerto Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed with police and set up barricades ofburning tires Saturday as authorities declared the hard-linepresident was re-elected in a landslide. Opponents responded withthe most serious unrest in the capital in a decade and charges thatthe result was the work of a "dictatorship."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, closed the dooron any chance he could use his limitless powers to intervene in thedisputes from Friday's election. In a message on state TV, he urgedthe nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad, calling the result a"divine assessment."

But Ahmadinejad's main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, hasrejected the result as rigged and urged his supporters to resist agovernment of "lies and dictatorship."

The clashes in central Tehran were the more serious disturbancesin the capital since student-led protests in 1999 and showed thepotential for the showdown over the vote to spill over into furtherviolence and challenges to the Islamic establishment.

Several hundred demonstrators -- many wearing the trademark greencolors of Mousavi's campaign -- chanted "the government lied to thepeople" and gathered near the Interior Ministry as the final countwas announced. It gave 62.6 percent of the vote to Ahmadinejad and33.75 to Mousavi, who served as prime minister in the 1980s and hasbecome the hero of a youth-driven movement seeking greaterliberties and a gentler face for Iran abroad.

The turnout was a record 85 percent of Iran's 46.2 millioneligible voters. Two other candidates received only a fraction ofthe vote.

Protesters set fire to tires outside the Interior Ministry andanti-riot police fought back with clubs and smashed cars. AnAssociated Press photographer saw a plainclothes security officialbeating a woman with his truncheon.

In another main street of Tehran, some 300 young people blockedthe avenue by forming a human chain and chanted "Ahmadi, shame onyou. Leave the government alone."

Mousavi's campaign headquarters urged people to showself-restraint.

Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli, who supervised the electionsand heads the nation's police forces, warned people not to join any"unauthorized gatherings." Earlier, the powerful RevolutionaryGuard said it would not tolerate any challenges by Mousavi's"green" movement -- the color adopted by Mousavi's campaign.

"I'm warning that I won't surrender to this manipulation,"said a statement on Mousavi's Web site. "The outcome of what we'veseen from the performance of officials ... is nothing but shakingthe pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran's sacred system andgovernance of lies and dictatorship."

He warned "people won't respect those who take power throughfraud."

The headline on one of Mousavi's Web sites: "I wont give in tothis dangerous manipulation." Mousavi and key aides could not bereached by phone.

It was even unclear how many Iranians were even aware ofMousavi's claims of fraud. Communications disruptions began in thelater hours of voting Friday -- suggesting an information clampdown.State television and radio only broadcast the Interior Ministry'svote count and not Mousavi's midnight press conference.

Nationwide, the text messaging system remained down Saturday andseveral pro-Mousavi Web sites were blocked or difficult to access.Text messaging is frequently used by many Iranians -- especiallyyoung Mousavi supporters -- to spread election news.

At Tehran University -- the site of the last major anti-regimeunrest in Tehran in 1999 -- the academic year was winding down andthere was no sign of pro-Mousavi crowds. But university exams,scheduled to begin Saturday, were postponed until next month aroundthe country.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported thatAhmadinejad plans a public address later Saturday in Tehran.

Even before the count began, Mousavi declared himself"definitely the winner" based on "all indications from all overIran." He accused the government of "manipulating the people'svote" to keep Ahmadinejad in power and suggested the reformistcamp would stand up to challenge the results.

"It is our duty to defend people's votes. There is no turningback," Mousavi said, alleging widespread irregularities.

Mousavi's backers were stunned at the Interior Ministry'sresults after widespread predictions of a close race -- or even aslight edge to Mousavi.

"Many Iranians went to the people because they wanted to bringchange. Almost everybody I know voted for Mousavi but Ahmadinejadis being declared the winner. The government announcement isnothing but widespread fraud. It is very, very disappointing. I'llnever ever again vote in Iran," said Mousavi supporter NasserAmiri, a hospital clerk in Tehran.

Bringing any showdown into the streets would certainly face aswift backlash from security forces. The political chief of thepowerful Revolutionary Guard cautioned Wednesday it would crush any"revolution" against the Islamic regime by Mousavi's "greenmovement."

The Revolutionary Guard is directly under the control of theruling clerics and has vast influence in every corner of thecountry through a network of volunteer militias.

In Tehran, several Ahmadinejad supporters cruised the streetswaving Iranian flags out of car windows and shouting "Mousavi isdead!"

Mousavi appealed directly to Iran's supreme leader, Khamenei, tointervene and stop what he said were violations of the law.Khamenei holds ultimate political authority in Iran. "I hope theleader's foresight will bring this to a good end," Mousavi said.

Iran does not allow international election monitors. During the2005 election, when Ahmadinejad won the presidency, there were someallegations of vote rigging from losers, but the claims were neverinvestigated.

The outcome will not sharply alter Iran's main policies or swaymajor decisions, such as possible talks with Washington or nuclearpolicies. Those crucial issues rest with the ruling clerics headedby the unelected Khamenei.

But the election focused on what the office can influence:boosting Iran's sinking economy, pressing for greater media andpolitical freedoms, and being Iran's main envoy to the world.

Before the vote count, President Barack Obama said the "robustdebate" during the campaign suggests a possibility of change inIran, which is under intense international pressure over itsnuclear program. There has been no comment from Washington sinceAhmadinejad was declared the winner.

In Israel, the deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said "there-election of Ahmadinejad demonstrates the increasing Iranianthreat."

Former President Jimmy Carter said he expects no major change inIran's policies.

"I think this election has bought out a lot of opposition tohis policies in Iran, and I'm sure he'll listen to those opinionsand hopefully moderate his position," said Carter after meetingwith Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank cityof Ramallah.

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