TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi defied the nation's religious hierarchy, calling for a huge rally Thursday even as the country's most powerful military force clamped down against online media and one prosecutor threatened protesters with execution.
Mousavi, who lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a national election he called an "astonishing charade" and a "shameful fraud,"sent a message to his supports to gather on Thursday in peaceful protest of the election results, and the killing of eight protesters. They have gathered in Tehran's Freedom Square for three straight days, even amid a violent crackdown by forces aligned with Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"In the course of the past days and as a consequence of illegal and violent encounters with (people protesting) against the outcome of the presidential election, a number of our countrymen were wounded or martyred," Mousavi said on his website.
"I ask the people to express their solidarity with the families .... by coming together in mosques or taking part in peaceful demonstrations," Mousavi said.
Mousavi's message came in defiance of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which swore to crack down on some websites. Although international media has been barred from covering demonstrations, confined indoors, reports have leaked out via the Internet of sweeping arrests of opposition leaders.
Blogs and sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been vital conduits for Iranians to inform the world about protests over Friday's disputed election. Mousavi and his supporters accuse the government of rigging the election to declare hard-liner Ahmadinejad the winner.
The Revolutionary Guard, an elite military force answering to Khamenei , said through the state news service that Iranian Web sites and bloggers must remove any materials that "create tension" or face legal action.
The Guards are a separate military with enormous domestic influence and control of Iran's most important defense programs. They are one of the key sources of power for a cleric-led establishment that has been pushed by the crisis into an extraordinary public defense of the Islamic ruling system.
But a more dire threat came from Mohammadreza Habibi, prosecutor-general in the province of Isfahan, Iran's third-largest city.
"We warn the few ... controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution," Habibi said, according to Reuters.
The nation's unelected supreme leader made a highly unusual appeal Tuesday in response to tensions, telling Iranians that all citizens should hold fast to their belief in the system despite disagreements over the election.
President Obama has called the election and subsequent fallout "troubling," but said on Tuesday that the U.S. should not be seen as "meddling" in Iran's domestic affairs. That didn't stop the Iranian government complaining about just such efforts by the U.S. in a meeting with the Swiss ambassador. The U.S. has not mainatined an embassy in Tehran since the 1979 revolution, and the Swiss diplomat represents U.S. interests in Iran.
The Iranian leadership, which rules above the president, has been shaken by a backlash following the election. Demonstrators rallied Wednesday, and appear to be increasingly emboldened. A fight broke out between lawmakers in the Iranian parliament and a growing number of high-ranking clerics have spoken out against the regime. Among them is former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, a fierce critic of Ahmadinejad and a member of a panel that has the theoretical authority to dismiss Khamanei, the successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who took power aft the 1979 revolution.
In another high-profile display of apparent opposition support, several Iranian soccer players wore green wrist bands — the color of Mousavi's campaign — during a World Cup qualifying match in South Korea that was televised in Iran.
Mousavi's call for a giannt rally in Tehran's Freedom Square Thursday raised the prospect of further clashes with security forces. The violence has left at least seven people dead, according to Iran's state media.
"If the whole people become aware, avoid violent measures and continue their civil confrontation with that, they will win. No power can stand up to people's will," Mousavi's spokesman Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour said. "I do not think that the Guardian Council will have the courage to stand against people."