By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
BEIRUT – Leaders of Iran’s opposition movement and the country’s hard-line establishment sharpened their months-long confrontation Saturday, with opponents calling on demonstrators to take to the streets on a highly charged anniversary next week and the judiciary putting 16 alleged protesters on trial.
Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi voiced deep sorrow over the “hasty” executions of two Iranians who were hanged Thursday in a move widely interpreted as an attempt at intimidation ahead of anticipated confrontations on the Feb. 11 anniversary of the 1979 founding of the Islamic Republic.
Their “invitation” for supporters to take to the streets showed fresh daring. Neither had explicitly called for protests on the Dec. 27 Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura, the last round of street confrontations between security forces and demonstrators.
It came as top officials warned of consequences for anyone who tries to take part in anything but official rallies on the anniversary, traditionally an occasion for anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans and imagery.
“Anyone breaking ranks with the Iranian people will be considered an agent of foreigners,” Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamedani, the Tehran Revolutionary Guard commander, told Sepahnews, the Web site of the elite military branch. “Any voice or color other than the voice of the Islamic Revolution will be pushed aside, and if a minority makes such an attempt, it will be firmly confronted.”
Another Revolutionary Guard officer, Gen. Ali-Mohammad Naini, told the Fars news agency that authorities planned to double the number of government supporters at this year’s rally, presumably by busing them in from the provinces and providing them with pay and food.
Meanwhile, 16 alleged opposition supporters, 14 men and two women, were brought to trial Saturday and charged with plotting against the Islamic system and being in cahoots with foreign enemies of Iran.
According to prosecutors, all those charged had confessed to espionage and taking part in “counter-revolutionary” gatherings with the aim of carrying out bombings, assassinations, distributing leaflets, burning property and writing graffiti.
Many considered the televised trial an attempt to cow potential protesters into staying home Feb. 11. But months of similar trials of protesters and a continuous stream of dire warnings against the opposition have failed to subdue a grass-roots movement unlike any Iran has ever experienced.
The opposition also appeared to be gearing up for a fight, launching a multi-pronged offensive against the government. On Friday, hundreds of mourners turned out in the holy city of Qom and other cities across the country to honor reformist cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri on the religiously significant 40th day following his death. Opposition elements hacked the Fars Web site, posting photographs of opposition rallies and a warning to the Revolutionary Guard. “We are countless,” the message said. “The Green movement will bring you down.
” On Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a relatively moderate cleric believed to be sympathetic to the opposition, also called on Iranians “of all groups and camps” to turn out en masse for the holiday, but warned that any violence will serve the interests of Tehran’s “enemies.”
“I invite all people and political camps across the country to march…. and renew their allegiance to the Islamic Republic despite certain differences of opinion,” he said in an address to the powerful Expediency Council, which he heads, that was posted to his Web site.
Former Prime Minister Mousavi and former parliament Speaker Karroubi ran in the June 12 election against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose victory was marred by widespread allegations of vote-rigging that triggered eight months of political discord.
The two, who have emerged as the leading figureheads of the so-called green opposition movement, condemned the call Friday by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati to quickly put arrested opposition supporters to death.
“It is regrettable to see the Friday prayers tribune has turned into a venue for inciting violence and encouraging more executions,” they were quoted as saying in an account of the meeting posted to Mousavi’s Facebook page, which is run by a supporter in Germany, and Karroubi’s news Web site, Sahamnews.org.
The account on the Facebook page included a rare photograph of the two reformist politicians together apparently inside Karroubi’s residence, a cup of tea and bowl of dates resting on a table before them.