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In Tehran, growing brutality undermines prospect for Iran-US dialogue

Protesters reported beatings and shootings near the parliament Wednesday. Regime opponents vowed to persist with protests that have deepened a cultural divide between hard-liners and more moderate reformers.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 24, 2009

Iranian police stand guard during an anti-Britain protest in front of the British embassy in Tehran Thursday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the United States and Britain on Sunday to stop interfering in Iran's internal affairs after the disputed June 12 presidential election, which led to days of protests in which about 17 people have been killed.



Istanbul, Turkey

Iranian security forces brutally attacked protesters in Tehran again on Wednesday, as Iran's supreme leader vowed not to compromise on the disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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"Neither the [Islamic] system nor the people will back down under force," declared Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, adding that he would "insist" on the rule of law to halt protests that have officially cost 20 lives and shaken Iran's theocratic regime.

Supporters of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims that Mr. Ahmadinejad's landslide victory was a fraud, promise to keep up protests that have exposed rifts in the leadership and deepened a cultural divide between hard-line ideologues like Ahmadinejad, and more moderate, Western-leaning backers of Mr. Mousavi. The tension is almost certain to slow down American attempts to engage Iran in dialogue.

A witness's account

A witness interviewed by CNN described hundreds of men with clubs suddenly emerging from a mosque and charging protesters.

"They started beating everyone," the woman said in English. "They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood and her husband … just fainted…. I also saw security forces, shooting on people…. This was a massacre. They were trying to beat people so that they would die."

Deepening regime resolve is taking a toll on the protests, which last week drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in a show of unrest unprecedented since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The movement has lost its momentum," says an Iranian professional, who could not be further identified. "And as you know, the more we move toward the end, the more savage the forces will get, since there will be less coverage [and] less [protesters]."

Impact of second Ahmadinejad term

As the regime accuses Western governments and media, especially the United States and Britain, of stoking the protests and "meddling," analysts in Tehran are divided over the likely impact of a second Ahmadinejad term on possible US-Iran dialogue.

"There is no doubt the president is enthusiastic about the prospects of renewing ties with the US," says a political observer in Tehran who could not be further identified for security reasons. "But I think given the present situation he might be in a weaker position to negotiate. The supreme leader might be suspicious, too."

Conducting a diplomatic balancing act between condemning the violence against protesters, and the strategic American need of negotiating with whatever Iranian government finally emerges, Mr. Obama on Tuesday made his strongest comments yet, saying that he was "appalled" by what he saw.

"Probably [Khamenei] is enraged by the recent [US] announcements. It remains to be seen if this is influencing his decision to engage," says the observer.

After days of silence during the protest, Ahmadinejad sought to portray business as usual on Wednesday, and was shown on state TV meeting a delegation from Belarus—a former Soviet state widely considered the "last dictatorship in Europe."

Possible downgrading of ties with Britain