The power struggle inside Iran’s political class appeared to be intensifying, with reformist and conservative leaders exchanging sharp statements Sunday that blamed each other for last week’s deadly street violence, while authorities arrested five family members of one of the nation’s most prominent politicians.
The divide between Iran’s senior clerics over the direction of the country took on a harsh public tone on a day when an uneasy calm settled over the streets of Tehran. There was no repetition of Saturday’s bloody battles between state security forces and demonstrators protesting what they say was a fixed presidential election that kept hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.
But state-owned Press TV reported that the authorities had detained five relatives of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- a senior cleric and an architect of the 1979 Islamic Revolution who is a key backer of reformist opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Among those in custody was Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani’s eldest daughter, who was picked up Saturday after she addressed a rally of Mousavi supporters.
All five were later released, according to Press TV and the Associated Press.
The arrests signaled the persistence of rivalries and disputes among Iran’s senior clerics. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supports Ahmadinejad, while reformers such as Rafsanjani back the opposition.
Mousavi appeared unwilling to bend, issuing a statement Sunday on his website telling supporters that “protesting against lies and fraud is your right.” His words, however, also cautioned against using violence, urging those who have taken to the streets to “continue to show restraint.”
His statement came as tension seemed to ease between security forces and protesters after clashes Saturday in which at least 13 people were killed.
Western officials believe the death toll nationwide has reached 100 since the protests began.
Some news agencies reported sporadic gunshots in Tehran neighborhoods Sunday evening. There were no reports of casualties.
A source inside Tehran’s Evin Prison said nearly 1,000 people were detained Saturday. Many were released by the morning.
But the aftermath of Saturday’s demonstrations was an atmosphere of blame and recrimination as security forces labeled protesters “terrorists,” and demonstrators condemned the harsh tactics of government-backed militias. The public nature of the dispute deepened the sense of a struggle at the heart of the Islamic Republic and has led to uncertainty about whether the two sides can recalibrate their strategies to keep the nation from sliding into further chaos.
The outcry from reformists continues. Another former president and a moderate leader, Mohammad Khatami, openly blamed the nation’s conservative leadership for the days of chaos and violence.
“Preventing people from expressing their demands through civil ways will have dangerous consequences,” Khatami, a Mousavi ally, said in a statement, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported.
Meanwhile, Ali Larijani, the conservative speaker of parliament, who for days had been supporting Khamenei, suggested that Iranians had lost faith in a legal system that validated the disputed June 12 election results that gave Ahmadinejad a wide victory.
“Although the Guardian Council is made up of religious individuals,” said Larijani, referring to the board that oversees elections, “I wish certain members would not side with a certain presidential candidate.”
Yet authorities continued to make it clear that they were prepared to use force to shut down the brawling protests that have rocked the capital and other cities.
Reuters reported that Iran Police Chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam told opposition leader Mousavi that “bandits are acting in the shadow of the illegal atmosphere created by you.” And the Press TV website called the protests “a torrent of illegal rallies.”
Meanwhile, Iranian hard-liners continued to accuse the United States and other Western countries of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs.
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad reportedly rebuked the West during a meeting of clerics and scholars.
“Definitely, by hasty remarks, you will not be placed in the circle of friendship with the Iranian nation,” the president said, according to the Reuters news agency. “Therefore I advise you to correct your interfering stances.”
The government has grown increasingly agitated by the protests and by what it perceives as meddling by Western powers and the media.
The U.S. and Britain have denied the accusations. But government-owned IRIB TV launched a scathing attack on the BBC’s Persian channel, accusing it of using tactics reminiscent of Britain’s imperial days.
“Soft war is a neo-colonialist method to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries,” Iran TV stated. “In order to achieve its colonialist goals, it tries to change other countries’ situations through the BBC channel by broadcasting false reports and contradictory analysis.”
Jon Leyne, the BBC’s Tehran bureau chief, was given 24 hours to leave the country. And Maziar Bahari, a correspondent for Newsweek, was reportedly arrested at his home Sunday morning, the magazine said.
Remaining foreign journalists have been warned not to go to the scenes of unauthorized demonstrations.
Khamenei appears unmoved by international criticism. He has rebuffed Mousavi’s demand that the election be annulled and has instead turned to security forces and government-backed militias to crack down on protesters.
The arrests of Rafsanjani’s family members caught some observers by surprise, however, particularly since Khamenei had appeared to reach out to his rival during a sermon Friday.
Rafsanjani, 75, sits on two influential organizations, including one that can elect and dismiss the supreme leader. He heads the Expediency Council, which mediates disputes between parliament and the presidency, and the Assembly of Experts, which oversees the office of the supreme leader.
The conservative, privately owned Fars news agency quoted a security official as saying the detentions of Rafsanjani’s family members were carried out to protect them from assassination by terrorist groups and rioters who would blame the government in an effort to create more turmoil.
Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Tehran contributed to this report.