TEHRAN, Iran—Thousands of pro-reform protesters marched Tuesday in a second straight day of large street demonstrations in the Iranian capital, defying the government after the clerical regime said it would recount some disputed ballots from the presidential election.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Iranians to unite behind the cleric-led ruling system despite the rival demonstrations and street clashes, state television reported, and he said representatives of all four candidates should be present for any limited recount of disputed ballots.
The supporters of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi marched about the same time - but in a different location - as a state-organized rally that also drew thousands of people waving flags and pictures of Iran's supreme leader in an apparent attempt to reclaim the streets for the government.
Following a demonstration of hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters on Monday, the regime issued tough restrictions on journalists, barring foreign media from covering rallies in Tehran.
Witnesses and amateur video showed a large column of Mousavi supporters walking peacefully along a central avenue in north Tehran.
A witness told The Associated Press that the pro-Mousavi rally stretched more than a mile (1.5 kilometers) along Vali Asr avenue, from Vanak Square to the headquarters of Iranian state television.
Security forces did not interfere, the witness said, and the protest lasted from about 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Other witnesses told the AP that about 100 people were still protesting in front of state TV around 9:45 p.m.
A correspondent for state-controlled Press TV correspondent said the crowd carried banners of Mousavi, wore green headbands and covered their mouths in an apparent defense against tear gas.
The clerical government appears to be trying to defuse popular anger and quash unrest by announcing the limited recount even as it cracks down on foreign media and shows its strength by calling supporters to the streets.
"This nation will protect and defend its revolution in any way," Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a prominent lawmaker and supporter of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the pro-government crowd in Vali Asr Square. The people pumped their fists in the air and cheered in support, images on state-run television showed.
Iranian state media said the government organized the rally to demand punishment for those who protested violently after Monday's rally. Mousavi has said he won Friday's balloting and has demanded the government annul Ahmadinejad's victory and conduct a new election.
Khamenei said Monday the government would conduct an investigation into the election. The move seemed intended to calm protester anger but was followed by a rally of hundreds of thousands of people that presented one of the greatest challenges to Iran's government since it took power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the disputed election revealed a change in expectations among voters and perhaps their leaders, but he stopped short of saying the balloting was rigged.
"I do believe that something has happened in Iran," with Iranians more willing to question the government's "antagonistic postures" toward the world, Obama said. "There are people who want to see greater openness, greater debate, greater democracy."
Iran's state radio said seven people were killed in clashes from Monday's protest - the first official confirmation of deaths linked to the street battles following the disputed election.
Witnesses saw people firing from the roof of a building used by a state-backed militia after some Mousavi supporters set fire to the building and tried to storm it.
Mousavi supporters had called for demonstrations Tuesday but Mousavi said in a message in his Web site he would not be attending any rally and asked his supporters to "not fall in the trap of street riots" and "exercise self-restraint."
Ahmadinejad traveled to Russia Tuesday after delaying a trip for a day but did not mention the Iranian election or unrest. Instead, he focused on the traditional target of the Islamic Republic's ire, the United States.