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Sat 20 Jun 2009 04:02 PM

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Iran council offers partial election recount

Iran's highest legislative body ready to recount 1/10th votes in disputed presidential election.

Iran's highest legislative body said on Saturday it was ready to recount a tenth of the votes in a disputed presidential election and one reformist party said it was calling off a protest rally planned for later in the day.

Police warned they would deal firmly with any further street demonstrations over the June 12 vote.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told protest leaders on Friday that they would be responsible for any bloodshed if rallies continued against the election, which he said was fairly won by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Etemad-e Melli party of one losing candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, said plans for a protest rally at 4 p.m. (03.30 UAE time) in downtown Tehran had been scrapped for lack of a permit.

"Because of not obtaining permission, the rally today has been cancelled," a party spokesman told Reuters.

Defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, whose supporters have held huge unauthorised protests in Tehran and elsewhere in the past week, had demanded a complete annulment of the vote.

At their last rally in Tehran on Thursday, Mousavi supporters held banners saying they would gather again two days later. But an ally of Mousavi said the moderate politician had not urged people to demonstrate on Saturday or Sunday.

His supporters may show up anyway, as they did in their tens of thousands on Tuesday, even though Mousavi had told them to stay home. The protests have been the most widespread in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The 12-man Guardian Council, which must certify the result of the election, announced plans for a partial recount.

"Although the Guardian Council is not legally obliged ... we are ready to recount 10 percent of the (ballot) boxes randomly in the presence of representatives of the three (defeated) candidates," a council spokesman said.

The council had invited Mousavi, Karoubi and a third candidate, Mohsen Rezaie, to raise their complaints at a special session. But only Rezaie, a former Revolutionary Guard commander, attended.

Khamenei's warning on Friday was reinforced by a senior police commander who said: "Beginning today, any gathering critical of the election would be illegal and police will deal with it firmly and with determination."

"The organisers of these protests who have deceived the public will be prosecuted and dealt with legally," deputy national police commander Ahmadreza Radan added.

Witnesses said they had seen Basij Islamic militia deploying across Tehran and one resident saw at least three buses full of Basij heading for the capital from the nearby city of Karaj on Saturday, as well as four trucks full of the motorcycles used by Basij militiamen during previous demonstrations.

"If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible," the white-bearded Khamenei told huge crowds thronging Tehran University for Friday prayers.

State media have reported seven or eight people killed in unrest since the election outcome was published on June 13.

Scores of reformists have been arrested and authorities have cracked down on foreign and domestic media.

President Barack Obama condemned the violence carried out by security forces and believed Iranians should be free to protest, his spokesman said on Friday after Khamenei's speech, sharpening the White House's rhetoric over the post-election events.

In a sign of defiance, Mousavi backers took to Tehran rooftops after nightfall on Friday to shout Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), a deliberate echo of tactics in the 1979 revolution.

Khamenei called for calm in his country, a major oil exporter embroiled in dispute with major powers over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects could be used to make bombs. Tehran says its nuclear work is peaceful.

He also attacked what he called interference by foreign powers who had questioned the result of the election.

Britain said it had summoned the Iranian ambassador to complain about Khamenei's speech, in which he also called the British "the most treacherous" of Iran's enemies.

Asked about the call by Khamenei for street protests to end, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday: "He (Obama) believes that those who wish to have their voices heard should be able to do that without fear of violence."

"I think you're ... witnessing something extraordinary ... I'm not sure that anybody even a week ago or so would have expected to see the courageous images that we're seeing now."

The election result showed Mousavi won 34 percent of the votes to Ahmadinejad's tally of nearly 63 percent.

Iran's national security council dismissed a complaint Mousavi had written earlier this week about plainclothesmen using sticks and metal rods to attack protesters.

"Your national duty and responsibility would require that instead of raising charges against police or army forces ... to try to avoid such illegal gatherings and not support them," Fars News Agency quoted its secretary Abbas Mohtaj as saying. (Reuters)