Iran: Probe Over, Election Stands

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Iran's Guardian Council ruled once again in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    A body of 12 clerics declared Iran's disputed presidential vote valid and free of major fraud, paving the way for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be sworn in next month despite claims of vote manipulation that sparked weeks of massive protest.

    The Guardian Council, an electoral authority the opposition accuses of favoring Ahmadinejad, said Monday that it had found only "slight irregularities" after randomly selecting and recounting 10 percent of nearly 40 million ballots.

    "From today on, the file on the presidential election has been closed," Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said on state-run Press TV.

    Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has said Ahmadinejad stole re-election through fraud and demanded a new election. Western analysts have described Ahmadinejad's roughly 2-1 margin of victory as suspicious and improbable.

    Conservative Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, who heads the Guardian Council, said that "meticulous and comprehensive examination" revealed only "slight irregularities that are common to any election and needless of attention," according to the state TV channel IRIB.

    The decision ruling out the possibility of a new vote was expected after the country's supreme leader endorsed the vote on June 19. The government had delayed a formal declaration as Mousavi supporters flooded in the streets in protests that were put down through a show of force by riot police and pro-government militiamen.

    Mousavi has made few public appearances since then and said he would seek official approval for rallies.

    The cleric-led government has said Ahmadinejad will be sworn in for a second term as early as July 26.

    Asked if the United States would recognize Ahmadinejad as Iran's legitimate president, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said "We're going to take this a day at a time."

    Monday's recount appeared to be an attempt to cultivate the image that Iran was seriously addressing fraud claims, while giving no ground in the clampdown on opposition.

    Ahmadinejad would still have beat Mousavi if errors were found in nearly every one of the votes in the recount, according to the government.

    "They have a huge credibility gap with their own people as to the election process. And I don't think that's going to disappear by any finding of a limited review of a relatively small number of ballots," Clinton told reporters in Washington.

    Ahmadinejad also said he had ordered an investigation of the killing of a young woman on the fringes of a protest. Widely circulated video footage of Neda Agha Soltan bleeding to death on a Tehran street sparked outrage worldwide over authorities' harsh response to demonstrations.

    Iran's leaders have been trying to blame the election unrest on foreign conspirators, a longtime staple of government rhetoric about internal dissent.

    Ahmadinejad's Web site said Soltan was slain by "unknown agents and in a suspicious" way, convincing him that "enemies of the nation" were responsible.

    An Iranian doctor who said he tried to save her told the BBC last week she apparently was shot by a member of the volunteer Basij militia. Protesters spotted an armed member of the militia on a motorcycle, and stopped and disarmed him, Dr. Arash Hejazi said.

    Basij commander Hossein Taeb on Monday alleged that armed impostors were posing as militia members, Iran's state-run English-language satellite channel Press TV reported.

    Tensions with the West rose Sunday when Iran announced it had detained nine local employees of the British Embassy on suspicion of fomenting or aiding protests. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said Monday that five of the Iranian embassy staffers had been released and the remaining four were being interrogated.

    Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseini Ejehi claimed he had videotape showing some of the employees mingling with protesters. He said the fate of those who remain in custody rests with the court system. Ejehi boasted that Iran had overcome attempts at an uprising like the Velvet Revolution, the peaceful 1989 mass demonstrations that brought down Czechoslovakia's Communist regime.

    Qashqavi said officials were in written and verbal contact with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and that Iran had dismissed the idea of downgrading relations with Britain and other countries.

    Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Group of Eight leaders meeting next week in Italy will discuss possible sanctions against Iran.

    Riot police clashed Sunday with up to 3,000 protesters near the Ghoba Mosque in north Tehran, the first major post-election unrest in four days.

    Witnesses told The Associated Press that police used tear gas and clubs to break up the crowd, and said some demonstrators suffered broken bones. They alleged that security forces beat an elderly woman, prompting a screaming match with young demonstrators who then fought back. North Tehran is a base of support for Mousavi.

    The reports could not be independently verified because of tight restrictions imposed on journalists in Iran.