Day 5 of Iran protests: Where do we stand?

As tens of thousands marched in Tehran Wednesday, the government moved to recount ballots and crack down on bloggers and news websites.

By , Middle East editor

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    On Wednesday, tens of thousands rallied behind defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, as seen in this video grab.
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Even as the Iranian government clamped down harder on dissent, defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi urged his followers on Wednesday to protest en masse again.

Already, tens of thousands have begun to gather in Tehran's Haft-e Tir Square and march silently through the streets.

"We want a peaceful rally to protest the unhealthy trend of the election and realize our goal of annulling the results," said Mr. Mousavi, who has rejected as insufficient Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's move the day before to recount votes in certain contested areas.

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And Mousavi is keeping the pressure on: He called for a day of mourning on Thursday.

Though considering a recount, just days after Ayatollah Khamenei called President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection "divine," the regime on Tuesday barred foreign journalists from leaving their offices and arrested prominent reformists.

Here is a rundown of what's happening on various fronts, as reported by different outlets. Click on the news source's name to see the full article.

Crackdown on dissidents

"Iran was braced for a fifth day of unrest today as the government intensified its crackdown on opposition figures with the arrest of dozens of leading critics and issued a further warning against reporting of the protest movement," reported the Guardian in London.

"Iranian intelligence and security forces are using the public protests to engage in what appears to be a major purge of reform-oriented individuals whose situations in detention could be life-threatening," said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

10 days and counting

"The country's Guardian Council, a 12-man committee that serves to uphold the constitution, announced Tuesday that it had begun a 10-day investigation into allegations of voting irregularities, but also praised the election process and said the reevaluation would be limited to specific areas where alleged infractions took place," reported the Los Angeles Times.

Agence France-Presse quotes Khamenei as saying Wednesday: "If the examination of the problems requires recounting of some ballot boxes, it should be definitely done in the presence of the representatives of candidates so that everybody is assured," he said.

Interestingly, at a pro-government rally Tuesday in Tehran, "many of the placards and slogans at the pro-government rally were in support of Khamenei rather than Ahmadinejad," another L.A. Times article reported.

What the protesters want

Here's how a commenter on Farq summed it up:

1. Dismissal of Khamenei for not being a fair leader

2. Dismissal of Ahmadinejad for his illegal acts

3. Temporary appointment of Ayatollah Montazeri as the Supreme Leader

4. Recognition of Mousavi as the President

5. Forming the Cabinet by Mousavi to prepare for revising the Constitution

6. unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners

7. Dissolution of all organs of repression, public or secret.

How they're getting the word out

Iran has blamed Western news outlets, bloggers, and others participating in a widespread Internet campaign for fomenting unrest. Despite sustained interruptions in TV, Internet, text messaging, and cellphone services; an increasing number of websites being blocked; and even proxy servers – which Mousavi supporters have used to get around Iranian censorship of Facebook and other sites – being targeted, protesters are persistently finding a way to get the message out.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard said it would take legal action against websites. It said US and Canadian companies were supporting these websites that were inciting people to riot.

"[C]ertain countries have rushed to judgment and have supported the illegal gatherings and the disturbances that a number of opportunists had created," Iran's foreign ministry said.

Ahmadinejad's miracle

"Read carefully: What I saw today was the most elegant scene I had ever witnessed in my life," wrote a participant in Monday's massive pro-reformist rally whose blog post was picked up by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. After "about 15 people" attacked him while riding in a taxi with his wife and daughter, he joined the crowds where he said he saw signs reading, "The Miracle of the Third Millennium: 2 x 2 = 24 millions" – a reference to Ahmadinejad's surprisingly high total of 24 million votes, according to official results.

An "Iranian graduate" quoted in the Guardian said the Iranian blogger community was one of the top 10 in the world, saying its "social function" played a more significant role in Iran than Europe due to censorship.

Is this the next Tiananmen?

Abbas Barzegar argues in the Guardian that it is not. He says the rallies – estimated to be the most massive since the 1979 Islamic revolution – are evidence of an Iranian identity crisis spawned 30 years ago. The wealthy elite, he writes, and the "extremely large conservative segment" of the Iranian population have increasingly grown apart.

"Living in separate sections of the cities and working and socialising among their own, they have thus come to understand themselves and Iran in entirely different trajectories. Thirty years of mutual distaste has now burst forth upon the streets in the form of an election contest....

"Anyone expecting [or encouraging] another Prague Spring or Tiananmen Square severely misunderstands the situation here. Instead, the long-term solution to the predicament in Iran today is much more complex than any political reform could provide – Iranians have to solve an identity crisis generations in the making. From my estimation, the calming climate of the mass gatherings is the first indication that Iranians would rather tackle that challenge than return to the dark days of the early [1980s]."

Read the full article here.

What the rest of the world thinks

According to the premier Pan-Arab network Al Jazeera, President Obama is not particularly enamored of President Ahmadinejad's challenger. Here's how Al Jazeera summed it up:

"The US president has played down differences between Iran's two main presidential election rivals, saying both were hostile towards the US.

"Barack Obama said on Tuesday that he would continue his policy of 'tough diplomacy' towards Tehran, as protests in support of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and his rival Mir Hossein Mousavi, continued.

" 'It's important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised,' Obama told CNBC news.

" 'Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighbourhood and has been pursuing nuclear weapons,' Obama said."

Whether Mousavi, or Ahmadinejad, a nuke is coming, says ElBaradei

The New York Times reports:

"Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, said it was his 'gut feeling' that Iran's leaders wanted the technology to build nuclear weapons 'to send a message to their neighbors, to the rest of the world: don't mess with us....'

"Dr. ElBaradei has made similar points in the past, officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday, but his latest remarks were more dramatic and less hedged with diplomatic caveats than previously."

The Monitor recently ran a briefing page on how close Iran is to the making a nuclear bomb, citing a wide array of reports – most of which concluded that Iran was further away from having a bomb capable of being launched via long-range missile than had been widely believed. Read the full story here.

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