A senior Iranian cleric demanded in a nationally broadcast sermon Friday that leaders of election protests be punished harshly, with some "worthy of execution." The country's increasingly isolated opposition leader effectively ended his role in the demonstrations, saying he'll seek permits for future rallies.
Iran's ruling clergy has widened its crackdown on the opposition since a bitterly disputed June 12 presidential election, and scattered protests have replaced the initial mass rallies.
The official Web site of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, his main tool of communicating with his supporters, was hacked Friday, leaving it blank, an aide said.
Mousavi has said victory was stolen from him through fraud, challenging the proclamation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the winner.
Mousavi has sent mixed signals to his supporters in recent days, asking them not to break the law, while pledgingof the election.
Hundreds have been detained since the vote, including journalists, academics and university students, and a special court has been set up to put them on trial.
In Friday's central Muslim sermon at Tehran University, a senior cleric, Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, called for harsh retribution for dissent.
"Anybody who fights against the Islamic system or the leader of Islamic society, fight him until complete destruction," he said in the nationally broadcast speech.
The cleric alleged that some involved in the unrest had used firearms.
"Anyone who takes up arms to fight with the people, they are worthy of execution," he said. "We ask that the judiciary confront the leaders of the protests, leaders of the violations, and those who are supported by the United States and Israel strongly, and without mercy to provide a lesson for all."
Khatami said those who disturbed the peace and destroyed public property were "at war with God," and said they should be "dealt with without mercy."
He reminded worshippers that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rules by God's design and must not be defied.
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.
The cleric also lashed out at foreign journalists, accusing them of false reporting, and singled out Britain for new criticism.
"In this unrest, Britons have behaved very mischievously and it is fair to add the slogan of 'down with England' to slogan of 'down with USA,"' he said, as his remarks were interrupted by worshippers' chants of "Death to Israel."
Iran's rulers have accused the West, which has become increasingly vocal in its condemnation of the postelection clampdown, of meddling in Iran's internal affairs. Earlier this week, Iran expelled two British diplomats, prompting the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats by Britain.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama renewed his criticism of Iran's violent crackdown on protesters and dismissed Ahmadinejad's demand for an apology.
"I don't take Mr. Ahmadinejad's statements seriously about apologies, particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran."
Mr. Obama said Ahmadinejad should "think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people. And he might want to consider looking at the families of those who've been beaten or shot or detained. … That's where I think Mr. Ahmadinejad and others need to answer their questions."
Mr. Obama spoke at a White House news conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mr. Obama said he and Merkel "speak with one voice" in condemning the recent violence.
In the latest admonition of U.S. political leaders, Iran's state-controlled PressTV also criticized three "hawkish" U.S. senators - John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman - for calling the Iranian elections "rigged." The state report said the lawmakers had been "firmly warned against any interference in the country's internal affairs."
In Trieste, Italy, foreign ministers of the Group of Eight countries called for an end to the violence in Iran and urged the authorities to find a peaceful solution.
And human rights groups, along with the Canadian government, have expressed concern that Iran has put a feared, hard-line prosecutor in charge of the cases of arrested journalists.
Khatami, meanwhile, alleged that the icon of the opposition, slain protester Neda Agha Soltan, was killed by demonstrators, not the Iranian security forces. Soltan, 27, was killed by a shot to the chest last week, on the sidelines of a protest.
"The proof and evidence shows that they (protesters) have done it themselves and have raised propaganda against the system," he said. "I say hereby that these deceitful media have to know that the ordeal will be over and shame will remain for them."
In London, an Iranian doctor who said he tried to save Soltan as the young woman bled to death, told the BBC she apparently was shot by a member of the Basij militia. Protesters spotted an armed member of the militia on a motorcycle, and stopped and disarmed him, said Dr. Arash Hejazi.
The man appeared to admit shooting Soltan, shouting "I didn't want to kill her," but the furious protesters confiscated his identity card and took photographs of him before letting him go, Hejazi said.
In quelling protests, Basij militiamen have broken up even small groups of people walking together to prevent any possible gathering. Still, dozens of friends and relatives of Soltan managed to pay tribute Friday, arriving at Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in groups of two and three, uttering brief prayers and placing flowers on her grave, witnesses said.
Vigils for Soltan have been held around the world.
Mousavi, who has said he is being increasingly isolated, lost his main link to the world after his official Web site, Kalemeh, came up blank and stripped of any text or pictures. Mousavi's associate Ali Reza Beheshti told The Associated Press the site had been taken down by unknown hackers.
In a message on the site late Thursday, Mousavi had said he would seek permission for future protests, even though he said unfair restrictions were being imposed. He said he has been asked by the Interior Ministry to apply in person, a week ahead of time.
The opposition leader noted that Ahmadinejad has been able to hold two postelection marches and a Tehran rally "that were well-publicized on state television, seeming to encourage participation with their regularly advertised march routes."
Mousavi has said the authorities areby trying to isolate and discredit him. He hasn't led a rally in more than a week.
Khamenei has ordered a large security detail around Mousavi - ostensibly to protect him, but presumably also to restrict his movements. Authorities have also targeted those close to Mousavi.
Late Thursday, state TV reported that the head of Mousavi's information committee, Abolfazl Fateh, was banned from leaving Iran for Britain. The report, which could not be verified independently, identified Fateh as a doctoral student in Britain.
The semiofficial Fars news agency said Fateh was banned from travel so authorities could investigate "some of the recent gatherings," a reference to election protests.
At least 11 Mousavi campaign workers and 25 staffers on his newspaper have been detained.
On Wednesday,immediately after meeting with Mousavi. All but four have been released. Those still in custody included Qorban Behzadiannejad, Mousavi's former campaign manager.
At least 17 people have been killed in postelection protests, in addition to eight members of the Basij, the government has said.