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Dueling demonstrations in Iran

THOUSANDS of people waving Iranian flags and pictures of the country's supreme leader massed yesterday, hours after the government said it would recount some disputed presidential ballots.

Later, a "massive" crowd supporting reformist challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi gathered in Vanak Square to the north, according to a correspondent for the English-language Press TV.

The government barred foreign media from covering rallies in Tehran, where government officials urged the crowd not to let the election divide the nation and said the unrest would not threaten Iran's Islamic system.

The Press TV correspondent at the pro-reform rally told the anchor by telephone that a crowd she called "huge" and "massive" was carrying banners of Mousavi, wearing green headbands and covering their mouths in an apparent defense against tear gas.

The government appears to be trying to defuse popular anger and quash unrest by announcing the limited recount.

"This nation will protect and defend its revolution in any way," Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a prominent lawmaker and supporter of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said as the crowd in Vali Asr Square pumped their fists in the air and cheered in support, images on state-run television showed.

Failing to appease

Iranian state media said the government organized the rally to demand punishment for those who protested violently after a larger demonstration on Monday by hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters.

Mousavi has said he won Friday's balloting and has demanded the government annul Ahmadinejad's victory and conduct a new election.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday the government would conduct an investigation into the election.

The move seemed intended to calm protester anger but was followed by a rally of hundreds of thousands of people that presented one of the greatest challenges to Iran's government since it took power in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran's state radio said seven people were killed in clashes from Monday's protest - the first official confirmation of deaths linked to the street battles following the disputed election.

Witnesses saw people firing from the roof of a building used by a state-backed militia after some Mousavi supporters set fire to the building and tried to storm it.

Mousavi supporters had called for demonstrations yesterday but Mousavi said in a message in his Website he would not be attending any rally and asked his supporters to "not fall in the trap of street riots" and "exercise self-restraint."

Khamenei ordered the Guardian Council, an unelected body composed of 12 clerics and experts in Islamic law closely allied to the supreme leader, to investigate the election results after he met with Mousavi on Sunday.



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