(photo credit: Associated Press)
TEHRAN - If the West wanted to help Libyan civilians it would arm them rather than bombing Muammar Gaddafi, Iran's leader said on Monday, accusing Washington of seeking a strategic "foothold" in oil-rich Libya.
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In a speech to mark the new Iranian year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected US President Barack Obama's assertion that opposition protesters in Iran were the same as pro-democracy masses that have risen up against autocratic governments across the Middle East.
Khamenei has welcomed the uprisings in the Arab world as part of an "Islamic awakening" and poured scorn on the West's military moves to protect Libyan civilians.
"We condemn 100 percent how Gaddafi was and is dealing with the people
... the killing of civilians," he said. "But we also condemn 100 percent
the entrance and interference of America and the West."
"They could have armed them, given them anti-aircraft batteries, instead
they witnessed the massacre of the people for one month," he told a
packed shrine in the holy city of Mashhad.
"You plan to use Libya as a foothold to be able to monitor the
revolutionary future governments in Tunisia and Egypt. That is your
corrupt intention," Khamenei said to a crowd that chanted "Death to
America" and "Death to Obama".
The White House said its aim for the bombing -- which began after a UN
Security Council resolution endorsed action to protect civilians -- was
not regime change, but Russia, which abstained in the UN vote,
likened the intervention to the medieval crusades.
RIGHT ON NUCLEAR
Gadaffi's concessions to the West over Libya's nuclear program showed
Iran was right to continue to reject any curb to its nuclear development
-- despite sanctions imposed by countries who fear Tehran might be
building nuclear arms, Khamenei said.
Whereas Libya had given up its nuclear capacities in exchange for
incentives that Khamenei compared to giving candy to a child, Iran "not
only did not retreat but, despite all the efforts, officials tried to
increase nuclear facilities year after year."
While voicing support for demonstrators in the region and condemning
government repression, Iran has crushed protests at home and jailed
scores of demonstrators since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed
presidential election in June 2009.
Khamenei lampooned Obama who, in what has become an annual address to
Iranians on their new year, said Iranians who staged huge post-election
protests were driven by the same "forces of hope" as the people who
brought down Mubarak.
"He says people in Tehran's Azadi square are the same as people in
Tahrir Square in Egypt. He is right, every year (on the anniversary of
the Islamic Revolution) the people of this nation gather at Azadi Square
and their slogan is 'Down with America'," he said.
Iran calls the opposition movement a "sedition", backed by Iran's
foreign foes. It has deployed large numbers of security forces to
prevent efforts to rekindle the protests which were crushed at the end
On the crackdown in Bahrain, where the Sunni Muslim ruling family has
received military support from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United
Arab Emirates, Khamenei said it was wrong to see Iran's moral support
for the largely Shi'ite protesters as a sectarian matter.
"In Bahrain, there is no conflict between Shi'ites and Sunnis. it is
rather a nation's protest against the oppression that is being imposed
"We believe the Saudi government made a mistake. It shouldn't have done
it (sending troops) and it is making itself hateful in the region," he
said. "They made a mistake and anyone else who does this (send troops)
will make a mistake."