Now sworn in, Ahmadinejad could crack down harder

Top opposition candidates, including defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, are among those who may be targeted.

Raheb Homavandi/Reuters
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks to members of parliament during his swearing-in ceremony in Tehran on Wednesday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was officially inaugurated for a second term Wednesday, killing the slim hopes his opponents had of overturning his controversial election victory. Now Tehran is holding its breath, wondering if Ahmadinejad will seek to consolidate his position by widening his ongoing crackdown against reformers and his political opponents.

Houchang Hassan-Yari, a professor of international relations at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, predicts he will.

"The crackdown will continue over the next few months and will be extensive and ruthless," he says. "No one will be immune from repression...The line is traced and camps chosen."

Ahmadinejad has signalled in recent days that he intends to silence the voices at home who allege June's presidential election was rigged and end a cycle of protests that has gone on for almost two months.

While members of Iran's political elite were at one time safe from arrest and torture, Prof. Hassan-Yari says the rules of the game have changed. He says defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, around whom the reformist opposition has rallied, is in the line of fire, as are his allies – former presidents Mohammed Khatami and Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, and reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi.

Though Ahmadinejad's inauguration was completed today, he still needs to convince the parliament to ratify his proposed Cabinet within the next two weeks. Iran's state news agency reported that 70 reformist members of parliament didn't attend the inauguration in protest.

Signs the crackdown could be expanded

The chorus of hard-liner demands for opposition leaders to be arrested and tried for "inciting unrest" in the aftermath of the June 12 poll appears to be getting results.

Mirhamid Hasanzadeh, a close Mousavi aide who ran his website during the presidential campaign, was arrested Tuesday by order of a Revolutionary Court and his computer confiscated, the reformist Parleman News reported. His arrest was the first of a high-profile member of the opposition since Saturday's opening of a trial of 100 Ahmadinejad opponents.

A number of religious figures aligned with the president have launched a public campaign of opprobrium against the opposition.

"Through Israel, America, and England, they are trying to arrest the progress of the Islamic Revolution and subvert it," Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Akbar Qoreishi, the representative for West Azerbaizan province told the hardliner-aligned Fars News Agency on Wednesday. He attacked opposition leaders as being the "cause of suffering of the Iranian nation" and called for their trial "without any leniency."

Hojjat ol-Eslam Qasem RavanBakhsh, the political editor of a conservative weekly, called Rafsanjani "the first chief of the unrest" in a comment to the hard-line Raja News. In addition, he asked why individuals who were less involved been arrested while those who commanded the revolt safely remain in the periphery.

Ahmadinejad: Westerners don't respect rights

On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad began his second term in combative style by launching an attack on his Western critics as security forces fought with protesters in the streets outside the parliament.

"They [Westerners] are interested in democracy only as long as it serves their interests," Ahmadinejad said, speaking in the cavernous Iranian parliament to roars of encouragement from the assembled representatives. "They don't respect the opinions and rights of peoples."

With an estimated 5,000 security forces shutting off Baharestan Square in front of the parliament with bomb-sniffing dogs, protesters gathered at the entrance to Tehran's labyrinthine bazaar and in sidestreets. Unverified reports from the news wires and eyewitness accounts on Twitter alleged that demonstrators had attacked several motorbike-mounted basiji militiamen, taking some prisoner. Short videos shot by participants on mobile phones showed ragged crowds lingering along sidewalks or violently being moved along. The security services appeared to control all avenues and squares and were stopping protesters from coalescing into a crowd.

"Those who don't believe in republicanism and plan to remove it from the power system carried out this coup because they wanted to show to Iranian society that from now on whatever the Supreme Leader wants will come out of poll boxes," says Fatemeh Shams, a political activist and PhD candidate at Oxford University in England reached by phone. Her husband is currently one of the political detainees in Iran's notorious Evin Prison.

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