Anti-riot police guarded the offices overseeing Iran's disputed elections Saturday with the count pointing to a landslide victory by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while his opponent denounced the results as "treason" and threatened a challenge.
Iran's government said the incumbent Ahmadinejad is the winner with a landslide 62.63 percent of the vote. Top opposition contender Mir Hossein Mousavi took only 33.75 percent of vote in a result disputed by his supporters.
The results had flowed quickly after polls closed showing the hard-line president with a comfortable lead - defying expectations of a nail-biter showdown following a month of fierce campaigning and bringing immediate charges of vote rigging by Mousavi.
A statement from Mousavi posted on his Web site urged his supporters to resist a "governance of lie and dictatorship."
The Interior Ministry also said 85 percent of Iran's 46.2 million eligible voters went to the polls - setting a new record. On Friday, many polling stations were jam-packed with people waiting several hours to cast their ballots.
Tensions are high in Tehran this morning. Many people opened shops and carried out errands, but the backdrop was far from normal: black-clad police gathered around key government buildings, and mobile phone text messaging was blocked in an apparent attempt to stifle one of the main communication tools of the pro-reform movement of Mousavi.
The outcome of the race is pivotal not only for Iran, but also for Middle East politics as well, says CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reporting form Tehran.
About 85 percent of Iranians turned out to vote yesterday - that's a record - in the most bitterly contested political battle in the country's history. Polls were kept open four hours later to accommodate the long lines.
But it doesn't look as if the fight is over yet.
Just hours after the polls had closed last night, election officials announced that the president was in the lead. The reformist opposition candidate Mousavi reacted immediately with a counterclaim that he had won and that there had been serious election irregularities.
Millions of mostly young Iranians desperate for change and who supported Mousavi in passionate pre-election rallies were crushed and furious.
There have been clashes all through the night and into the morning outside Mousavi's campaign headquarters in the nation's capital. Palmer witnessed some people being beaten and chased away by riot police today.
But the real potential for violence would come if there are large masses of protesters and that hasn't happened yet - and the riot police are out in force.
It is very unclear what will happen now. President Ahmadinejad's mostly rural working class supporters were thrilled with his victory. But in the cities, most of the Mousavi strongholds, the authorities have warned they will suppress any popular uprising.
Mousavi, who became the hero of a powerful youth-driven movement, had not made a public address or issued messages since declaring himself the true victor moments after polls closed and accusing authorities of "manipulating" the vote.
"I'm warning that I won't surrender to this manipulation," said the Mousavi statement on the Web on Saturday. "The outcome of what we've seen from the performance of officials ... is nothing but shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran sacred system and governance of lie and dictatorship."
He warned "people won't respect those who take power through fraud" and called the decision to announce Ahmadinejad winner of the election was a "treason to the votes of the people."
The headline on one of Mousavi's Web sites: "I wont give in to this dangerous manipulation." Mousavi and key aides could not be reached by phone.
It was even unclear how many Iranians were even aware of Mousavi's claims of fraud. Communications disruptions began in the later hours of voting Friday - suggesting an information clampdown. State television and radio only broadcast the Interior Ministry's vote count and not Mousavi's midnight press conference.
Nationwide, the text messaging system remained down Saturday and several pro-Mousavi Web sites were blocked or difficult to access. Text messaging is frequently used by many Iranians - especially young Mousavi supporters - to spread election news.
|Photos: Iran Elections|
An Iranian woman holds her identity documents as she stands in line to cast her vote at Masoumeh shrine in Qom about 120 kms south of Tehran, Friday, June 12, 2009. (Photo: AP)
At a press conference, Mousavi declared himself "definitely the winner" based on "all indications from all over Iran." He accused the government of "manipulating the people's vote" to keep Ahmadinejad in power and suggested the reformist camp would stand up to challenge the results.
"It is our duty to defend people's votes. There is no turning back," Mousavi said, alleging widespread irregularities.
Mousavi's backers were stunned at Interior Ministry's results after widespread predictions of a close race - or even a slight edge to Mousavi.
"Many Iranians went to the people because they wanted to bring change. Almost everybody I know voted for Mousavi but Ahmadinejad is being declared the winner. The government announcement is nothing but widespread fraud. It is very, very disappointing. I'll never ever again vote in Iran," said Mousavi supporter Nasser Amiri, a hospital clerk in Tehran.
Bringing any showdown into the streets would certainly face a swift backlash from security forces. The political chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard cautioned Wednesday it would crush any "revolution" against the Islamic regime by Mousavi's "green movement" - the signature color of his campaign and the new banner for reformists seeking wider liberties at home and a gentler face for Iran abroad.
The Revolutionary Guard is the military wing directly under control of the ruling clerics and has vast influence in every corner of the country through a network of volunteer militias.
In Tehran, several Ahmadinejad supporters cruised the streets waving Iranian flags out of their car windows and shouting "Mousavi is dead!"
Mousavi appealed directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene and stop what he said were violations of the law. Khamenei holds ultimate political authority in Iran. "I hope the leader's foresight will bring this to a good end," Mousavi said.
Mousavi said some polling stations were closed early with people still waiting to vote, that voters were prevented from casting ballots and that his observers were expelled from some counting sites.
Iran does not allow international election monitors. During the 2005 election, when Ahmadinejad won the presidency, there were some allegations of vote rigging from losers, but the claims were never investigated.
The outcome will not sharply alter Iran's main policies or sway major decisions, such as possible talks with Washington or nuclear policies. Those crucial issues rest with the ruling clerics headed by the unelected Khamenei.
But the election focused on what the office can influence: boosting Iran's sinking economy, pressing for greater media and political freedoms, and being Iran's main envoy to the world.
Before the vote count, President Barack Obama said the "robust debate" during the campaign suggests a possibility of change in Iran, which is under intense international pressure over its nuclear program. There has been no comment from Washington since the results indicated re-election for Ahmadinejad.
The race will go to a runoff on June 19 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. Two other candidates - conservative former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei and moderate former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi - only got small fractions of the votes, according to the ministry.
Iran Expert: Results Are "Blatant Fraud"
"Iranians are very proud of their election process," Reza Aslan, author of "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the War on the End of Terrorism," said on CBS' The Early Show. "There is very little that is democratic in Iran except for the elections which are, frankly, the freest and among the fairest in the region.
"This kind of blatant fraud has never really happened before," Aslan said. "Two to one, this is not a real election here. And I don't think the young people who came out, you know, by the tens of thousands are going to actually put up with this."
Aslan said that broad opposition to Iran's current president - what he called the "Anyone But Ahmadinejad Vote" - was the overwhelming sentiment across the country. "So I really have a hard time believing that these groups, these sort of different coalitions which include some on the far right, many groups in the center, including Rafsanjani, a powerful figure in Iran, and the reformist camp, it will be hard to say they're going to go home and accept this quietly."
"How long could this drag on?" asked Early Show anchor Chris Wragge.
"The election itself has been called," Aslan said. "There is very little chance that any official, particularly the Supreme Leader Khamenei, will step in and throw out the elections and start over again.
"I think that what the younger voters and, as Mousavi said, the reformist camp are going to do is see how far they can just sort of push for the kind of civil unrest that at the very least will show Ahmadinejad that he's being watched, and that the election committee is going to have to answer for some improprieties."
There may also be a question mark over relations between Washington and Tehran. "Regardless [of the results], I think Barack Obama decided his administration will open up to Iran regardless of who is the president there. Obviously [it] would have been a lot easier if it had been Mousavi instead of Ahmadinejad," said Aslan.
"But even if Ahmadinejad had barely won the elections and there weren't these reports of absurd and explicit fraud from one end of the country to the other, it would have been a lot easier for Obama to say, 'Well, this is the new Iranian government, this is the government we're going to deal with.' At this point, who knows what is going to happen? I think the best thing for Obama to do is stay out of it and let's see what the Iranians themselves figure out."