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Iran Braces For Another Mass Opposition Protest

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, listeners heard a clip of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. We should have mentioned that the clip was courtesy of Al-Jazeera.]

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee's away. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

State-controlled TV in Iran portrays the country's disputed election as a minor, inside-the-family political issue. That's the official line on Iranian TV, but even viewers of official channels can see hence that it has become a worldwide story. They might have caught the subtle meaning of green tape on the hands of some people showed playing soccer in South Korea. We'll explain more in a moment. We'll also hear the way that Iranians are following the news from outside their home country. We begin this morning with the latest protests in Tehran.

International news organizations are now banned from covering these events, but word has still come today from a witness that people gathered once again in downtown Tehran. They rallied in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who says the presidential election was stolen. So now the daily battle resumes over whose messages get out and whose do not. We have more today from NPR's Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: Although there have been many pictures of the huge crowds televised internationally, Iranian state-controlled television has so far acted as though only pro-Ahmadinejad supporters were turning out into the streets. But slight cracks in that media blackout have occurred.

On Wednesday, Press TV, Iran's 24-hour English satellite channel, did finally concede that hundreds of thousands of Mousavi's supporters have been marching in the streets, and state TV broadcast video of yesterday marchers. Iranian TV has shown extensive pictures of the nighttime violence that has spread across Tehran, including burning cars and buses and smashed bank windows. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday condemned what he called these vandals.

Ayatollah ALI KHAMENEI (Supreme Leader, Iran): (Through translator) Everybody should confront these acts of sabotage. Everybody should take a clear stance against these unrests. This destruction which is taking place is not related to candidates. These are, rather, acts of insurgents and mutineers.

SHUSTER: But many in the Mousavi camp believe those committing the violence are, for the most part, members of the pro-government street militia known as the Basiji, acting as provocateurs and setting the stage, possibly, for a more violent police crackdown. Two nights ago, the father of a translator for NPR saw a member of this militia explode an incendiary grenade under a car. The BBC spoke to one resident of Tehran who has seen the Basiji at work. He declined to provide his name. He said yesterday's marches were peaceful, but everything changed when the sun went down.

(Soundbite of BBC News broadcast)

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) like aerial gunshots, tear gas and Basiji, the voluntary militia members, trying to do anything violent they can. They got - smashed the door, the glass door. They're smashing the cars, setting fire in them, setting fire anywhere they can, smashing anything they can find.

SHUSTER: TV viewers in Iran did see several of Iran's players on the national soccer team wearing green tape on their uniforms and green wrist bands during a World Cup qualifying match with South Korea. Green is the symbol of the Mousavi campaign. Dozens of pro-Mousavi activists have now been arrested. Yesterday, two well-known political analysts were taken into custody according to widely circulated reports. One of them is Saeed Laylaz, who has spoken to NPR frequently in the past and who expressed surprise himself at the strength of the Mousavi campaign just two days before last Friday's election. At that time, Laylaz blamed Ahmadinejad for the rapidly emerging movement against him.

Mr. SAEED LAYLAZ (Political Analyst): This situation is direct consequence of Mr. Ahamdinejad's government performance since the last four years. He actually destroyed economy of Iran. He actually destroyed the Iranian self-confidence and Iran's image among the world community.

SHUSTER: The Iranian government yesterday accused the U.S. government of what it called intolerable interference in the affairs of Iran. President Obama and others in his administration have been trying to choose their words carefully as they respond to events in Iran. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the right of Iranians to register their dissent peacefully.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): The people of Iran deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. The outcome of any election should reflect the will of the people, and it is for the Iranians to determine how they resolve this internal protest concerning the outcome of the recent election.

SHUSTER: At least eight demonstrators are believed to have been killed so far. One was shot on Monday when hundreds of thousands turned out to protest the election results. The others were apparently killed earlier the same day when militia descended on Tehran University and went room to room searching for student activists.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Dubai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: June 19, 2009 at 11:46 AM EDT
In this report, listeners heard a clip of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. We should have mentioned that the clip was courtesy of Al-Jazeera.
Mike Shuster
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.