TEHRAN, Iran – A defiant regime lashed out at United Nations' criticism over its brutal handling of public protests as it announced a special court to prosecute demonstrators and vowed to continue to crack down on dissent.
International condemnation, fanned by a widely circulated video of a young woman known worlwide as "Neda" being gunned down by police as she protested the presidential election, was met with scorn from the government. The nation's ruling clerics rejected demands to annul the election over fraud allegations and blasted UN chief Ban Ki-moon's call for an end to violent repression of protests.
"These stances are an evident contradiction of the UN secretary general's duties, international law and are an apparent meddling in Iran's internal affairs," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said.
Riot police remained on the streets of Tehran in a huge show of force that witnesses said was an obvious attempt to intimidate protesters. The demonstrations have broken out almost daily since a June 12 election showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning by a lanndslide over opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
There were no reports of violent clashes Tuesday, but protesters came up with new techniques, such as turning on the lights in their cars at certain hours of the day and honking their horns or holding up posters.
"People are calmly protesting, more symbolically than with their voices," a Tehran resident said in a telephone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government retribution.
Another opposition figure, reformist presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi, called for a day of mourning for the at least 17 people killed in protests since the election.
In a sign of a growing crackdown, Tehran riot police fired tear gas and live bullets Monday to break up about 200 protesters paying tribute to Neda Agha Soltan, the beautiful, 26-year-old protester whose death at the hands of police was captured on a cellphone video and seen around the world.
Caspian Makan, a 37-year-old photojournalist in Tehran who identified himself as Soltan's boyfriend, said she had not been deterred by the risk of joining protests.
"She only ever said that she wanted one thing, she wanted democracy and freedom for the people of Iran," he told an Associated Press reporter during a telephone call from Tehran.
Across the world, governments and diplomats were increasingly lining up on opposite sides in the Iranian showdown, the strongest challenge to the rule of Islamic clerics in 30 years.
In a boost for the embattled regime, Russia said Tuesday that it respects the declared election result. But France summoned Iran's ambassador to express concern about what it called "brutal repression" of protesters in Tehran.
The U.S. and many European countries have refrained from challenging the election outcome directly, but have issued increasingly stern warnings against continuing violence meted out to demonstrators.
Mousavi has charged massive vote fraud and insisted he is the true winner. However, Iran's top electoral body, Guardian Council, found "no major fraud or breach in the election," a spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, was quoted by Press TV as saying Tuesday. "Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place."
In what appears to be a bizarre tactic to deter funerals for slain demonstrators becoming public spectacles, the hardline regime is punishing their families by demanding a bizarre $3,000 "bullet fee" to claim the bodies of their loved ones.
The family of 19-year-old Kaveh Alipour, who was slain on Saturday, told The Wall Street Journal the fee was demanded by morgue officials. To make matters worse, the Alipour family insists that their son wasn't even participating in the protests.
"He was a very polite, shy young man," his father told the Journal. He wasn't politically active and was not taking part in the demonstrations, he was just returning home from acting class, his father added.
The regime has sought to avoid public funerals that could fan the flames of protests of the recent presidential election. Several protesters who have been slain in the crackdown have been quickly buried by the government, denying families the chance to mourn their dead.