Iran Opposition Derides Election As "Coup"

Last Updated 1:19 p.m. EDT

Iran's embattled opposition leader urged his supporters Wednesday to keep working for "the rights of the people" in his first rallying cry since the regime validated the results of the country's disputed presidential election.

In a fresh show of defiance, Mir Hossein Mousavi reasserted his claim that the June 12 election was illegitimate, and he demanded that Iran's cleric-led government release all political prisoners and institute electoral reforms and press freedoms.

"It's not yet too late," Mousavi, who has slipped from public view in recent days, said in a lengthy statement posted on his Web site. "It's our historic responsibility to continue our complaint and make efforts not to give up the rights of the people."

Mousavi also called for a return to a more "honest" political environment in the Islamic Republic.

Mousavi's defiance was joined by former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who called the outcome of elections a "velvet coup against the people and democracy."

The reformist Khatami said the harsh crackdown after the election has undermined the confidence in the nation's rulers.

The comments come after the powerful Guardian Council, Iran's top electoral oversight body, pronounced the election results valid earlier this week - paving the way for Ahmadinejad to be sworn in later this month for a second four-year term.

They also accompanied news that Iran's feared Basij militia asked the chief prosecutor to investigate Mousavi for his role in violent protests that it said undermined national security.

The semiofficial Fars news agency said the militia - known as supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's street enforcers - sent the prosecutor a letter accusing Mousavi of taking part in nine offenses against the state, including "disturbing the nation's security," which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.

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 regime says 17 protesters and eight Basiji were killed in two weeks of unrest that followed the election. Mousavi insists the vote was tainted by massive fraud and that he - not incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - is the rightful winner.

"Whether he wanted to or not, Mr. Mousavi in many areas supervised or assisted in punishable acts," said the Basij letter, which also accused Mousavi of bringing "pessimism" into the public sphere.

In another sign of a tightening government clampdown on anyone challenging Ahmadinejad, a reformist political group said Wednesday that authorities banned a newspaper allied to presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi after he denounced Iran's government as "illegitimate" because of claims of voting fraud.

The closure of the daily Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence, is another move by officials seeking to block media and Web sites critical of Ahmadinejad.

Karroubi, a former parliamentary speaker, received only a fraction of the votes in the results announced by authorities and joined Mousavi in demanding a new election. Recently, however, Karroubi has stepped up his independent criticism of the election and could emerge as a leading dissident voice against Ahmadinejad.

On Tuesday, he issued a harshly worded statement that blasted Ahmadinejad's government and pledged to continue challenging its authority. Karroubi's political group, the National Confidence Party, said the newspaper was shut down in response.

"I don't consider this government as legitimate," said the statement posted on Karroubi's Web site. "I will continue the fight under any circumstances and using every means."

Ahmadinejad canceled plans to travel to Libya as an observer at an African Union summit, Libyan officials said. It would have been Ahmadinejad's second trip outside Iran since the election.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said unspecified "preoccupations" kept the president at home. Some African officials had complained that Ahmadinejad's presence at the three-day gathering could divert attention from Africa's problems.

Ahmadinejad on Tuesday repeated the claims that post-election street riots were linked to a "soft revolution" aided by foreign powers.

"Enemies, despite overt and covert conspiracies to topple (the ruling system) through a soft overthrow, failed to reach their goals," state television quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Intelligence Ministry officials.

It's unclear how many people have been detained during the post-election riots and protests, but at least one group, the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, claimed at least 2,000 arrests have been made. The figures could not be independently verified because of tight media restrictions.

Iran's cleric-led government has said Ahmadinejad would be sworn in as early as July 26.

State-run Press TV reported Wednesday that a grenade was found in a trash can inside a women's bathroom at a mausoleum in Tehran, and it cited an official as saying the incident was intended "to invoke fear in the minds of the Iranians who participated" in the disputed election.

Amnesty International said Tuesday it was concerned about the possibility that many detainees "could be severely tortured" in custody, and it joined other human rights groups in demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners.

Police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said Wednesday that Iranian intelligence officials were seeking Dr. Arash Hejazi, an Iranian doctor who tried to save Neda Agha Soltan after she was fatally shot on the sidelines of one of the demonstrations.

Hejazi, who has since fled to London, told the BBC last week that Soltan - who became an opposition icon after video of her bleeding to death was circulated worldwide - apparently was shot by a member of the volunteer Basij militia. He said protesters spotted an armed member of the militia on a motorcycle, and stopped and disarmed him.

But Ahmadi Moghaddam described the circumstances as a fabrication that had nothing to do with the street riots. He did not elaborate on why officials want Hejazi, but the regime repeatedly has implicated protesters and even foreign agents in Soltan's death.