Iran reformists back down in court as 100 face riot trial

Reformists backed down from their allegations of massive fraud in the June presidential election at the start of a trial on Saturday of about 100 Iranians accused of rioting, news agencies said.

Leading reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi told the revolutionary court in Tehran that he should not have taken part in protests as there had not been any fraud in the June 12 poll, which returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office for another four years, the Fars news agency reported.

The backdown by Abtahi, a close aide of reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami, deals a blow to the opposition movement which claims that Ahmadinejad's re-election was due to massive rigging of votes.

"I say to all my friends and all friends who hear us, that the issue of fraud in Iran was a lie and was brought up to create riots so Iran becomes like Afghanistan and Iraq and suffers damage and hardship," Abtahi told the court.

"It was wrong of me to take part in the rallies, but (Mehdi) Karroubi told me that we cannot call the people onto the streets with such a meagre number of votes, so we had better go to the streets ourselves to demonstrate our protest," he said.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi, a reformist former parliament speaker, are spearheading the massive anti-Ahmadinejad campaign and are accused of launching a "velvet" or soft, revolution to topple the Islamic regime.

Another accused, Mohammad Atrianfar, too expressed his loyalty to the regime during his testimony on Saturday.

Fars quoted Atrianfar, of the reformist Executives of Construction group, as saying that "we mistook certain irregularities (in the vote) as fraud."

American-Iranian scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, also among the defendants, blamed the United States, saying it had long had a plan to "change the regime" in Iran.

"To find the main instigators of the riots, one should search the government, semi-government and intelligence services of the United States," he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

A picture obtained from the Fars News Agency shows Iranian cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi (L)

The re-election of Ahmadinejad has triggered the worst crisis in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic.

Around 30 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the post-poll violence when hundreds of thousands of anti-Ahmadinejad protesters took to streets to denounce his victory.

Up to 2,000 protesters, political activists, reformists and journalists were arrested as they publicly challenged the election results. Most were later released, but around 250 remain behind bars.

Among the 100 or so who went on trial Saturday are Mohsen Aminzadeh and Mohsen Safai-Farahani, deputy ministers under the government of Khatami, and Mohsen Mirdamadi, head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

Iranian media said the defendants are accused of having "participated in riots, acting against national security, disturbing public order, vandalising public and government property, having ties with counter-revolutionary groups and of planning to launch a velvet revolution."

Those found guilty face a maximum jail term of five years, unless they are charged with being a "mohareb" or enemy of God, which can carry the death penalty.

Reformist Abtahi, according to Fars, further testified that opposition leader Mousavi, ex-president Khatami and powerful cleric and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had taken an "oath" not to abandon each other.

"Mousavi probably did not know the country, but Khatami, with all due respect... knew all the issues. He was aware of the capability and power of the leader, but he joined Mousavi and this was a betrayal," the cleric said, adding that Rafsanjani sought to avenge his 2005 presidential defeat to Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani late Saturday issued a denial, branding the allegation of a pact as a "lie."

"Ayatollah Rafsanjani did not support any candidate in this election and did not have the slightest role in post-election incidents," the Expediency Council that Rafsanjani heads added in a statement carried by IRNA.

Mousavi, meanwhile, denied in a statement on his website on Saturday that his campaign against the re-election of Ahmadinejad has foreign links.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Friday repeated his claims that Britain and Western countries are behind the opposition protests.

source AFP

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