Tehran: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called off a trip to Libya for an African Union summit on Wednesday that would have given the hardline president another chance to appear at an international forum after his disputed re-election.
A spokesman at Ahmadinejad’s office said the visit had been cancelled. He gave no reason. It would have been the president’s second foray abroad since the 12 June poll set off Iran’s most dramatic internal unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
In a show of confidence, Ahmadinejad had attended a regional summit in Russia four days after the vote, ignoring huge street protests by supporters of losing candidates Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who both say the election was rigged.
The Guardian Council, a supervisory body, on Monday endorsed the election result and dismissed complaints of irregularities, saying a partial recount had shown these were baseless.
But Karoubi, a reformist cleric who came fourth in the poll, remained defiant, saying in a statement posted on his party’s website that he viewed Ahmadinejad’s government as illegitimate.
Karoubi and Mousavi, a moderate former prime minister, have both called for the election to be annulled and held again.
“I don’t consider this government legitimate,” Karoubi said. “I will continue my fight under any condition by every means, and I’m ready to cooperate with pro-reform people and groups.”
Security forces have crushed street protests and hardliners have regained the upper hand in the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, whose nuclear programme has alarmed the West.
But Mousavi and Karoubi continue to reject the election result in what amounts to an unprecedented challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has upheld the outcome.
Karoubi, a white-bearded cleric who was close to Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, demanded the release of “thousands” of people arrested during the unrest.
“What is most important now is to preserve our revolutionary and political attitude and confront those who want to sideline us. We should all preserve our revolutionary unity,” he added.
Iran has accused foreign powers, notably Britain and the United States, of fomenting the post-election demonstrations.
The semi-official Fars news agency said one of three local staff of the British embassy still detained in Tehran had helped organise the protests, in which at least 20 people were killed.
“Among the three detained British embassy staff there was one who ... had a remarkable role during the recent unrest in managing it behind the scenes,” it said, citing no source.
The authorities detained nine Iranian employees at the British embassy on Sunday. The Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Monday five had been freed and four were still being questioned.
The report by Fars, which first reported the detentions, suggested that another employee had been freed since then.
As hardliners try to consolidate their grip, the next formal step is for Khamenei to confirm Ahmadinejad as president. Parliament will swear him in a few weeks later.
“I will not take part in any ceremonies related to this government such as the swearing-in ceremony,” Karoubi said.
“As I had already declared, I came for change and I apologise to the people because some visible and invisible forces blocked any change in the executive power.”
The turbulent aftermath of the poll exposed splits in Iran’s political and religious elite, but for now few options seem open for Ahmadinejad’s reformist and conservative foes, who include powerful men such as former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Karoubi, a former parliament speaker, ridiculed statements by Ahmadinejad and his allies that the protests were part of a foreign-inspired conspiracy to instigate a “velvet revolution” to topple the 30-year-old Islamic Republic.
“Dozens of political and religious people were arrested and sent to prisons and solitary confinement to push them to confess about (plotting) a colour revolution,” Karoubi said.
“Such velvet revolutions happened in former Soviet countries ... Have we become part of the former Soviet Union?” he asked.
Human rights groups have urged U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit Iran or send a special envoy to demand an investigation into a security crackdown after the election.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said on Tuesday reports from within Iran indicated that as many as 2,000 people, including opposition leaders, professors, journalists, students and protesters may be in detention across the country.