Iran govt declared Ahmadinejad winner

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Anti-riot police guarded the offices overseeing Iran's disputed elections Saturday with the count pointing to a landslide victory by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while his opponent denounced the results as "treason" and threatened a challenge.

The standoff left Tehran in tense anticipation. Many people opened shops and carried out errands, but the backdrop was far from normal: black-clad police gathering around key government buildings and mobile phone text messaging blocked in an apparent attempt to stifle one of the main communication tools of the pro-reform movement of Mir Hossein Mousavi.

A statement from Mousavi posted on his Web site urged his supporters to resist a "governance of lie and dictatorship."

Outside the Interior Ministry, which directed Friday's voting, security forces set up a cordon. The results had flowed quickly after polls closed showing the hard-line president with a comfortable lead -- defying expectations of a nail-biter showdown following a month of fierce campaigning and bringing immediate charges of vote rigging by Mousavi.

But an expected announcement on the full outcome was temporarily put on hold. A reason for the delay was not made public, but it suggested intervention by Iran's Islamic authorities seeking to put the brakes on a potentially volatile showdown.

Ahmadinejad had the apparent backing of the ruling theocracy, which holds near-total power and would have the ability to put the election results into a temporary limbo.

There were no immediate reports of serious clashes or mass protests, and the next step by Mousavi's backers were unclear. Mousavi, who became the hero of a powerful youth-driven movement, had not made a public address or issued messages since declaring himself the true victor moments after polls closed and accusing authorities of "manipulating" the vote.

"I'm warning that I won't surrender to this manipulation," said the Mousavi statement on the Web on Saturday. "The outcome of what we've seen from the performance of officials ... is nothing but shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran sacred system and governance of lie and dictatorship."

He warned "people won't respect those who take power through fraud" and called the decision to announce Ahmadinejad winner of the elction was a "treason to the votes of the people."

The headline on one of Mousavi's Web sites: "I wont give in to this dangerous manipulation." Mousavi and key aides could not be reached by phone.

It was even unclear how many Iranians were even aware of Mousavi's claims of fraud. Communications disruptions began in the later hours of voting Friday -- suggesting an information clampdown. State television and radio only broadcast the Interior Ministry's vote count and not Mousavi's midnight press conference.

Nationwide, the text messaging system remained down Saturday and several pro-Mousavi Web sites were blocked or difficult to access. Text messaging is frequently used by many Iranians -- especially young Mousavi supporters -- to spread election news.

At Tehran University -- the site of the last major anti-regime unrest in Tehran in 1999 -- the academic year was winding down and there was no sign of pro-Mousavi crowds. But university exams, scheduled to begin Saturday, were postponed until next month around the country.

By Saturday afternoon, Iran's Interior Ministry said Ahmadinejad had about 63 percent of the vote and Mousavi had just under 35 percent with about 91 percent of all votes counted. The ministry also updated its voter turnout figures. Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said 85 percent of Iran's 46.2 million eligible voters went to the polls -- setting a new record. On Friday, many polling stations were jammed packed with people waiting several hours to cast their ballots.

At a press conference, Mousavi declared himself "definitely the winner" based on "all indications from all over Iran." He accused the government of "manipulating the people's vote" to keep Ahmadinejad in power and suggested the reformist camp would stand up to challenge the results.

"It is our duty to defend people's votes. There is no turning back," Mousavi said, alleging widespread irregularities.

Mousavi's backers were stunned at Interior Ministry's results after widespread predictions of a close race -- or even a slight edge to Mousavi.

"Many Iranians went to the people because they wanted to bring change. Almost everybody I know voted for Mousavi but Ahmadinejad is being declared the winner. The government announcement is nothing but widespread fraud. It is very, very disappointing. I'll never ever again vote in Iran," said Mousavi supporter Nasser Amiri, a hospital clerk in Tehran.

Bringing any showdown into the streets would certainly face a swift backlash from security forces. The political chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard cautioned Wednesday it would crush any "revolution" against the Islamic regime by Mousavi's "green movement" -- the signature color of his campaign and the new banner for reformists seeking wider liberties at home and a gentler face for Iran abroad.

The Revolutionary Guard is the military wing directly under control of the ruling clerics and has vast influence in every corner of the country through a network of volunteer militias.

In Tehran, several Ahmadinejad supporters cruised the streets waving Iranian flags out of their car windows and shouting "Mousavi is dead!"

Mousavi appealed directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene and stop what he said were violations of the law. Khamenei holds ultimate political authority in Iran. "I hope the leader's foresight will bring this to a good end," Mousavi said.

Mousavi said some polling stations were closed early with people still waiting to vote, that voters were prevented from casting ballots and that his observers were expelled from some counting sites.

Iran does not allow international election monitors. During the 2005 election, when Ahmadinejad won the presidency, there were some allegations of vote rigging from losers, but the claims were never investigated.

The outcome will not sharply alter Iran's main policies or sway major decisions, such as possible talks with Washington or nuclear policies. Those crucial issues rest with the ruling clerics headed by the unelected Khamenei.

But the election focused on what the office can influence: boosting Iran's sinking economy, pressing for greater media and political freedoms, and being Iran's main envoy to the world.

Before the vote count, President Barack Obama said the "robust debate" during the campaign suggests a possibility of change in Iran, which is under intense international pressure over its nuclear program. There has been no comment from Washington since the results indicated re-election for Ahmadinejad.

The race will go to a runoff on June 19 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. Two other candidates -- conservative former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei and moderate former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi -- only got small fractions of the votes, according to the ministry.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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