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Iranian president blasts Israel for flotilla attack at Ayatollah Khomeini anniversary

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasted Israel for its deadly flotilla attack Monday and warned the government opposition not to stray from the path set by the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, 21 years after his death.

By Nasser KarimiAssociated Press / June 4, 2010



Tehran, Iran

The Iranian president on Friday warned the country's opposition against straying from the path of the founder of the Islamic Revolution and slammed Israel for a deadly raid this week on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke before hundreds of thousands gathered at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the surrounding grounds in southern Tehran for a ceremony marking his death 21 years ago. The Khomeini-led Islamic revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah and brought hard-line Islamists to power in 1979.

"Those who deviate from the Imam's path will be banished by the people," Ahmadinejad said.

IN PICTURES: Iran's Islamic Revolution

The stark warning came just days ahead of the opposition's mass rally planned on the anniversary of last June's disputed presidential election. The rally is to be the first opposition gathering in months and authorities have warned they will confront any unauthorized demonstrations.

The Iranian opposition claims Ahmadinejad won the June 12 election through massive vote fraud. It had rallied for months against the election results but was met by a heavy government crackdown, which the opposition says killed 80 people during street protests so far.

More than 100 opposition figures and activists were put on a mass trial, and 80 of them were sentenced to death or given prison terms ranging from six months to 15 years.

But Ahmadinejad reiterated Friday that the election was "100 percent free" and added he is "bound by duty to protect the people's vote."

The annual commemoration of Khomeini's death is part mournful ceremony, part political rally for the base that sustains Iran's hard-liners amid rising dissatisfaction with inflation, unemployment, social constraints — and an opposition movement that has persisted despite the crackdown.

Ahmadinejad, known for his anti-Israeli rhetoric, used the podium at the shrine grounds Friday to blast Israel's commando raid on the international flotilla off Gaza's shores, calling it "barbaric" and urging the dismantling of the "Zionist regime."

"They have lost their self-control and ability to think," he said of the Israeli raid that killed nine activists on the Turkish flagship in the flotilla Monday.

"Thousands such freedom flotillas across the world will sail out with freedom fighters, to scrap the Zionist rule and bring peace and freedom to all mankind," added Ahmadinejad.

Iran's supreme leader and Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also criticized the raid as a "mistake" that "showed how barbaric the Zionists are."

Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, also indirectly criticized opposition leaders, saying that some who revered the late Khomeini now "speak differently" than before. He also warned the opposition to carefully examine what he said was support that comes from "foreign enemies of Iran, enemies of the Imam."

Khomeini's grandson took the stage as he does every year on the anniversary, but this time his speech was repeatedly interrupted by anti-opposition chants from Ahmadinejad supporters. The chanting was apparently a jab at Hassan Khomeini's perceived support for opposition leaders.

Khomeini left the podium before finishing. "The dignity of the anniversary does not deserve what this small group is doing," he said.

The semiofficial Ilna news agency said other Khomeini relatives who attended the ceremony left in protest over the incident.

State TV carried the ceremony live, saying it was attended by 2 million people, including more than 700,000 Iranians who were bused in from various provinces.

Khomeini is still deeply popular and respected among Iranians, including veterans of the eight-year war that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched against Iran in the 1980s.

The TV reported that after the Tehran ceremony, there were anti-Israeli demonstrations in several Iranian cities and towns following Friday prayers.

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IN PICTURES: Iran's Islamic Revolution