White House backtracks over Ahmadinejad

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As protests continue in Iran, the White House has made it clear it has not yet fully accepted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory in Iran's presidential elections.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he had misspoken when calling Mr Ahmadinejad Iran's elected leader and insisted Washington will let the Iranian people decide whether the election was fair.

While flying on Air Force One, Mr Gibbs said: "Let me correct a little bit of what I said yesterday. I denoted that Mr Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran. I would say that's not for me to pass judgment on.

"He's been inaugurated. That's a fact. Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that, and we'll let them decide about that."

Mr Ahmadinejad was officially sworn in as the re-elected president as riot police ringed the parliament building to control protesters.

The 53-year-old hardliner took his oath of office after weeks of protests following the disputed election result. Twenty were killed and hundreds detained as demonstrations erupted in Tehran after the presidential vote last month.

"I, as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, swear before the holy Koran and the Iranian nation and God to be the guardian of the official religion, the Islamic Republic and the constitution," Ahmadinejad declared at the ceremony.

Opposition websites said supporters of Ahmadinejad's main political rival, Mirhossein Mousavi, were planning protests.

A witness reported seeing hundreds of Mousavi supporters in the vicinity of parliament, but no clashes with the riot police and Basij militia there. Police arrested at least 10 protesters, the witness said, adding that mobile phones had been cut off.

Iran's opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi have both vowed to continue to fight against Ahmadinejad's re-election which sparked Iran's worst unrest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Leading moderates have accused the government of electoral fraud and have already branded the next Ahmadinejad government "illegal".

The political unrest was condemned throughout the western world – many countries such as the United States, Germany and France have refused to send traditional letters of congratulation the new president, although the White House acknowledged that Ahmadinejad was Iran's "elected leader".

The Iranian government says the presidential election was fair and transparent and has accused western nations, especially Britain and the United States, of being complicit in the bloody post-election unrest, a charge both countries deny.

Ahmadinejad said Iran wanted peaceful coexistence with the world, but would resist any "bullying" power. "Internationally, we seek peace and security. But because we want this for all of humanity, we oppose injustice, aggression and the high-handedness of some countries," he said.

"We heard that some of the Western leaders had decided to recognise but not congratulate the new government. Well, no one in Iran is waiting for your messages."

He now has two weeks to present a cabinet to parliament for approval, but may get a rough ride from the conservatives who dominate the assembly, as well as from his moderate foes.

Two former presidents, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, who backed defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, boycotted Monday's endorsement of the president by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei although they were present at such events in the past.

Mousavi's credentials as a loyal servant of Iran's revolution may explain why he has escaped arrest for leading protests against an election he says was stolen to keep Ahmadinejad in power.

The 68-year-old has castigated authorities for their handling of the election and its tumultuous aftermath.

 

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