Pro and Anti-Government Rallies Blanket Iranian Capitol

Thousands show up for pro and anti-govt. rallies after partial recount ordered.

ByABC News
June 16, 2009, 5:14 AM

TEHRAN, June 16, 2009 — -- In the wake of violent protests that killed at least eight people so far in Iran, both supporters and opponents of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held separate rallies today in Tehran to either celebrate, or condemn, last week's contested elections.

Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi gathered illegally to protest the election results. After initially encouraging his supporters to attend, Mousavi warned them away, fearing violence. Police said protestors would pay a heavy price.

"Our officers will crush any unrest," said Esmaeil Ahmadi Moqaddam, the national chief of police.

Watch ABC's "World News With Charles Gibson," For More on Iran at 6:30 p.m. ET

Demonstrators defied the threats. Some eyewitnesses reported crowds even bigger than Monday's massive demonstration, which drew hundreds of thousands.

"The protestors came to claim their rights," said one Tehran resident. "It's the government that should be held responsible."

Speaking on Iranian television, a member of the Guardian Council -- Iran's most powerful clerics -- offered a partial recount. But opposition leaders are demanding an entirely new election.

"I do not think the Guardian Council will have the courage to stand against the people," said Ali Akbar Mohtashamipou, a Mousavi representative.

There were no immediate reports of violence or arrests, although it is difficult to confirm exactly what happened after the government Monday banned foreign media from covering unauthorized gatherings.

Late Monday, Iranian state TV announced that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah ali Khamenei, met with envoys of four opposition candidates Tuesday and called for unity, The Associated Press reported.

Amateur video reportedly showed a long column of anti-government protesters walking, apparently peacefully along a wide street on Tehran's north side, not far from where the pro-government rally was being held.

In Washington, President Obama said today the Iranian government's decision to allow a recount of some of the votes in last week's election shows that Khamenei understands that the Iranian people have "deep concerns" about the election, and its bloody aftermath.

But Obama, speaking after a meeting with South Korea's president at the White House, continued to tone down his criticism of the government, saying it would be "not productive... to be seen as meddling."

Officials prepared to recount ballots, but from only from contested precincts, after a ruling by Iran's Guardian Council, controlled by Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad was declared the winner by "a large margin" in last Friday's election.

Mousavi posted a message on his Web site, saying he would not be attending any rallies today and urged his followers to do the same and "not fall in the trap of street riots" and "exercise self-restraint," The Associated Press reported.

Violence escalated overnight following Monday's huge rally. Iranian state radio says seven people were killed in clashes when "thugs attacked a military outpost" after a mass rally.

But ABC News witnessed Monday's protest and it was very peaceful.

Unlike previous protests dominated by young people, Monday's protest mixed young and old, students and professionals.

A male protestor told us, "It's very clear, clear as daylight, you see the crowd. The government has really changed the results."

A female protestor chimed in, saying, "We're here for our revolution." Like many here, she expressed the hope that the demos can bring about a change in the government.

In the midst of these demos, there are some signs of the government ceding ground. In a completely unexpected development, Iran's Guardian Council announced a recount of the presidential vote, raising the possibility that the outcome may be overturned.

But state television quoted a council spokesman saying the recount would be limited to polling stations where candidates claim irregularities took place.

Iran's ruling Guardian Council calls the results provisional.

Protesters sent out another round of Twitter messages Tuesday, announcing plans to hold another rally. "Alert: Mousavi march still on 5PM," one message read, Reuters reported.

Mousavi and two other moderate candidates contesting the election results are scheduled to meet members of the Guardian Council today. They have been calling for the election results to be voided and a new election held.

Monday, Mousavi supporters flooded through downtown Tehran - numbering hundreds of thousands - making this possibly the largest demonstration here since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The demonstration was officially illegal. The government denied protestors permission but many defied that decision to show support for Mousavi and anger at an election they see as stolen.

Mousavi, making his first public appearance since election day, told the crowd to "stand up to this charade."

All was peaceful until early in the evening pro-government paramilitary fired into the crowd.

The shots came from the roof, an eyewitness told ABC News over the phone, hitting a car with protestors riding on top. One man was hit and flung from the car.

The government blames the violence on the protestors, calling them vandals. But many Iranians don't accept that explanation, and the government now faces an enormous popular wave of dissent.

Violence is now spreading around the country. Mousavi's Web site reports that a protestor has been killed in Shiraz, while the BBC is reporting instances of live fire being used by police in provincial cities.