Iranian MPs call for opposition leaders to be executed

ByOREN KESSLER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 16, 2011 00:59

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani blames "Zionists, Americans" for misleading heads of Egyptian solidarity protest; 2 demonstrators killed in Bahrain.

Iranian protestors attending an anti-gov't protest

iran protests 311. (photo credit:AP)

Hard-line Iranian lawmakers called on Tuesday for the country’s opposition leaders to face trial and be put to death – a day after clashes between opposition protesters and security forces left one person dead and dozens wounded.

Tens of thousands of people turned out for the rally on Monday to show solidarity with Egypt’s popular revolt, the first major show of strength from Iran’s beleaguered opposition in more than a year.

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Across the Persian Gulf in the kingdom of Bahrain, thousands of protesters poured into a main square in the capital, Manama, in an Egypt-style rebellion that sharply escalated pressure on authorities, as the Arab push for change gripped the Gulf for the first time.

At an open session of the Iranian parliament on Tuesday, pro-government legislators chanted “Death to Mousavi, Karroubi and Kahatami!” – referring to opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mahdi Karroubi and former reformist president Mohammad Khatami.


They said the US, Britain and Israel had organized Monday’s protests through the opposition leaders – who, according to the parliament’s Speaker Ali Larijani, were being “misled” by Iran’s arch-enemies.

“The parliament condemns the Zionists, American, antirevolutionary and anti-national action of the misled seditionists,” Larijani told the parliament, according to AFP. “How did the gentlemen [Mousavi and Karroubi]... fall into the orchestrated trap of America? Should they not have been cautious given the support, pleasure and joy of America and Israel as well as monarchists and Monafeghin?” Larijani added, referring to the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, a banned religious leftist group that seeks to overthrow the regime.

More than 220 lawmakers said in a statement that the trio should be held responsible for the unrest.

“We believe the people have lost their patience and demand capital punishment” for the opposition leaders, the statement said.

Hard-liners have long sought to put high-ranking opposition figures on trial, but the calls for the death penalty signaled an escalation in their demands.

Iran’s protests have sparked hope among observers of the region that the country might see a grassroots, Egypt-style uprising that would unseat the ruling theocracy.

But echoing other experts, Hagai M. Segal, a lecturer on Middle Eastern Affairs at New York University in London, emphasized the starkly different circumstances between Egypt and Iran.

In the Islamic Republic, he said, there are security forces eager to do “exactly what the Egyptian military were not willing to do – beat, and even shoot and kill citizens protesting on the streets.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and fiercely loyalist Basij militia consider it a “sacred duty” to quell anti-government dissent, he said.

Nonetheless, Segal noted, Iranians are growing increasingly frustrated with their rulers’ double standards.

“Iran has welcomed events in Egypt, yet has suppressed its own democracy movement, and even while celebrating events in Egypt they have banned public demonstrations in its favor because it fears Iranian protesters back on the streets,” he said. “Mousavi, Karroubi and others wish to remind Iranians and the West of this double standard, and if possible, reignite their own ‘revolution’ in the process.”

Iranian authorities appeared to be moving quickly on Tuesday to stifle the opposition before its gains momentum, issuing promises of swift action against leaders and activists, the IRNA state news agency reported.

“The judiciary will quickly and resolutely deal with major elements and those who violated public order and peace,” the spokesman for Iran’s judiciary and state prosecutor said.

In Bahrain, security forces have battled demonstrators over two days, leading to the deaths of two protesters.

In a clear sign of concern over the widening crisis, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa made a rare national television address, offering condolences for the deaths, pledging an investigation into the killings and promising to push ahead with reforms – which include loosening state controls on the media and Internet.

As the crowds surged into Pearl Square in the capital, security forces appeared to hold back. The dramatic move on Tuesday came just hours after a second protester died in clashes with police.

Oppositions groups are calling for greater political freedom and an end to the ruling Sunni monarchy’s grip on key decisions and government posts. The nation’s majority Shi’ites have long complained of discrimination.

Many in the square – which was quickly renamed the “Nation’s Square” by protesters – waved Bahraini flags and chanted: “No Sunnis, no Shi’ites! We are all Bahrainis!” The bloodshed already has brought sharp denunciations from the largest Shi’ite political bloc, which suspended its participation in parliament, and could threaten the nation’s gradual pro-democracy reforms over the past decade.

The second day of turmoil began after police tried to disperse up to 10,000 mourners gathering at a hospital parking lot to begin a funeral procession for Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima, 21, who died in Monday’s marches.

Officials at Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Complex said a 31-year-old man became the second fatality when he died of injuries from birdshot fired during the melee in the hospital’s parking lot.

After the clash, riot police eventually withdrew and allowed the massive funeral procession for Mushaima to proceed from the main staterun medical facility in Manama.

He was killed on Monday during clashes with security forces trying to halt marches.

At least 25 people were wounded by the barrage of rubber bullets, birdshot and tear gas, relatives said.

A crackdown on dissent last year touched off weeks of riots and clashes in Shi’ite villages.

The main Shi’ite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, denounced the “bullying tactics and barbaric policies pursued by the security forces” and said it was suspending its participation in parliament, where it holds 18 of the 40 seats.

The declaration falls short of pulling out the group’s lawmakers, which would spark a full-scale political crisis. But Al- Wefaq warned that it could take more steps if violence persists against marchers.

In Yemen, police tried to disperse demonstrators using tear gas and batons, but around 3,000 protesters defiantly continued their march from Sanaa University toward the city center, chanting slogans against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The procession gained momentum with hundreds of students and rights activists joining along the way.

Riot police blocked the main road leading to the city center, and clashed with protesters throwing stones. Three protesters were injured and rushed to the hospital in ambulances.

About 2,000 government supporters also staged a counter- demonstration in the center, raising concerns about potential clashes.

Saleh, who has been in office for more than 30 years, has been contacting powerful tribal leaders in a bid to enlist their support as he tries to defuse the protests, according to officials familiar with the president’s moves.

The officials said Saleh feared that his rule would not withstand the pressure of a tribal decision to join the protesters in seeking his ouster.

For now, said the officials, Saleh was counting on security forces and armed backers who support his rule in dealing with the protesters. He also promised to step down in 2013.

Jordan’s interior minister said Tuesday that protest marches will no longer need government permission – bowing to growing pressure to allow wider freedoms.

In street protests in the past five weeks, Islamist opposition groups, their leftist allies and independent rights activists demanded that the government remove restrictions on free speech and assembly.

Minister Saad Hayel Srour said on Tuesday that protesters would still have to inform authorities of any gathering two days in advance, to “ensure public safety,” and that they would have to observe public order. However, he stressed that the government would no longer interfere in such matters.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has responded to dissent by promising changes to an election law that allows the king’s loyalists to dominate the legislature – the only elected national decision-making body.

Opposition leader Hamza Mansour, of the Islamic Action Front (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) said Tuesday’s change was a step in the right direction.

“We’re still waiting to see changes made to the election law, and to have early elections held based on the new bill,” Mansour said.

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