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Ahmadinejad's reelection prompts mass protests in Iran

Supporters of challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi clash with riot police and Hizbullah vigilantes.

By Staff writer / June 12, 2009

Tehran, Iran

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran on Saturday to protest the re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clashing with riot police over the surprise result and crying fraud.

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Elderly women wove their way among cars stalled in traffic to hand out sweets in celebration. But hundreds of riot police, and later at night alongside Ansar-e Hizbullah vigilantes, sent a different message as they took control of the streets with beatings and violence.

The sounds of ambulance sirens, car horns, whistles, and shouting echoed long into the night. Protestors shouted "Death to the Dictator" and pelted police with stones.

Election officials declared Ahmadinejad the winner, claiming that he had won 62.6 percent of the vote, nearly twice the 33.75 percent given to his top challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei hailed the vote as a "divine assessment" and told losing candidates to rein in "provocative behavior." Ahmadinejad was the "chosen and respected president," the Leader said, so every Iranian "must unanimously support and help him."

But supporters of the former prime minister – who had rekindled popular interest in politics with a string of vast street rallies that attracted tens of thousands and led to an unprecedented 80 percent turnout – say they were betrayed.

"The people's vote does not matter – it is all about Ahmadinejad winning," said Majid, as a line of some 30 motorcycles with two helmeted riot policemen on the back of each roared past on their way to shut down the Mousavi campaign headquarters. "These guys are serious – they don't care about anybody."

Baton-wielding police chased gathering crowds as clashes erupted at several points across Tehran where just days before Mousavi supporters with little incident had thronged together in all-night parties of dancing and anti-Ahmadinejad bombast.

After nightfall, police were supplemented at one crowded downtown intersection by 75 vigilantes on motorbikes, who held aloft wooden sticks and clubs and chanted "Hizbullah!" as they arrived.

Fires continued to burn in some streets, as mobile phone service was cut and Ahmadinejad made a victory speech. The street violence was the worst in Tehran since days of student-led protests in July 1999 and June 2003.

State television ignored the protests, showing instead repeated footage of the mass turnout and voting from the day before, though many Iranians tuned into the BBC Persian service, which is only available on illegal but common satellite dishes.