Iran opposition issues call to mark election date

Iran’s embattled opposition leaders are calling for a new protest march to coincide with the one-year anniversary of disputed presidential elections in an attempt to jump-start a grass-roots political movement subdued by street violence and mass imprisonments, a reformist news website reported Tuesday.

Former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and onetime parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, both candidates vying against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year’s marred elections, called for a June 12 rally during a meeting Monday night, the website reported.

It was the first call in months by opposition leaders to head into the streets and the first time since the elections that they have called for a demonstration that did not coincide with a major holiday marked by the government with rallies.

Whether rank-and-file opposition supporters heed the call, the move ratchets up domestic political tensions. It also increases pressure on a government already facing intense international scrutiny, the possibility of biting economic sanctions and further diplomatic isolation over its refusal to curb sensitive aspects of its nuclear program.

“The regime imagines that people will forget its deeds and behaviors,” Mousavi was quoted as saying by, the news website of Karroubi’s political party, National Trust. “That’s not so.”

Ahmadinejad and his backers in the clergy and Revolutionary Guard frequently denounce the opposition as seditionists and apostates who deserve death. But the violent rhetoric has failed to quiet the movement’s leaders.

“Every day, a group of people are billed as apostate or blasphemous, only because they hold a different view,” Mousavi was quoted as saying. “The mass layoffs of laborers, their accumulated back wages, the low investment rate and many other factors indicate the weakness of the economic and management system in the country.”

Mousavi and Karroubi said the nation’s reformist groups should apply for a permit to stage the rally from the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by hard-liners close to Ahmadinejad. But it’s unlikely that the ministry will grant such permission. The same government agency oversaw the elections derided as fraudulent by the opposition and recently canceled the permits allowing two of the country’s main reformist political groupings to operate.

The latest call for a demonstration came amid an uptick in opposition activity after the stifling of anti-government protests that rocked the country during the second half of 2009. In recent days, Mousavi, Karroubi and other opposition figures — most of them associated with the once-powerful reformist faction within the political establishment — have grown increasingly outspoken.

“The conspiracies of the ruling regime’s mouthpieces are threadbare today,” Karroubi was quoted as saying Tuesday. “They ask us to repent. What about the massive killings, lies, tortures, violations of human rights and squandering of public wealth? Don’t they require any repentance?”

Meanwhile world powers have upped their pressure on Iran over its drive to master nuclear technology, which the West and Israel suspect is meant to attain weapons capability. Even Russia, long a strategic ally of Tehran, said it may join with Washington in voting for tightened United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran.

“As of yet, Iran is not demonstrating the required restraint and is behaving quite irresponsibly,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Danish radio Monday. “Therefore, if this situation continues, we cannot rule anything out, including sanctions.”

China, which like Moscow wields a veto on the council, has remained wary of biting new sanctions.

Though Iranian security forces have quelled major protests, activists in Tehran and other cities continue to plaster walls with anti-government graffiti and stage small rallies on campuses. But most opposition supporters acknowledge that they’re not sure where the movement is headed.

“We’re both confused and determined,” said a Tehran social scientist who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the risks involved. “We know we don’t want dictatorship. But we don’t know what we want.”

For now, opposition supporters are betting that a combination of economic troubles caused by a slash in government subsidies for fuel and oil and rising inflation, as well as the international pressure over Iran’s nuclear program, will boost the ranks of the “green movement,” the nickname adopted by the opposition, and force the government to free prisoners, bolster civil liberties or even make broader compromises.

“We’re counting on the economic crisis to expand the green movement to other layers of society,” said one prominent Tehran orthopedist and opposition supporter who spoke on condition he not be publicly identified. “The movement … has already gotten hold of the middle class, but it is going deeper.”

Even some conservative government supporters acknowledge a rift between the growing and largely liberal middle class clamoring for change and a hard-line regime rooted in a rural Iran that is fading as the country modernizes.

Instead of proposing a compromise or reaching out to the middle class, Ahmadinejad and his supporters have advocated the mass transference of residents from the big cities, especially Tehran, to rural areas under the guise of protecting them from potential earthquakes.