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Iranian leader rules out annulment

IRAN'S supreme leader said yesterday that the government would not yield to demonstrators who want a disputed presidential election annulled, effectively closing the door to compromise with the opposition.

The wife of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was defiant, saying protesters refused to buckle under a situation she compared to martial law. Mousavi's official Website said a protest was planned outside Iran's parliament for yesterday afternoon.

A helicopter could be seen hovering over central Tehran. A witness who walked through Baharestan Square in front of the parliament building around 7pm, three hours after the scheduled start of the protest, told The Associated Press it was swarmed by hundreds of riot police who did not allow people to gather even briefly.

Mousavi's Website had distanced him from the planned protest, saying it had not been organized by the reformist candidate.

But his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a former university dean who campaigned beside him, said on another of his Websites that his followers had the constitutional right to protest and the government should not deal with them "as if martial law has been imposed in the streets."

She called for the release of all activists and protesters.

Mousavi, a former prime minister, saw his campaign transform into a protest movement after the government declared that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 election. Mousavi says the result was fraudulent.

Direct challenge

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the protests to end, leaving Mousavi with the choice of restraining followers or continuing to directly challenge the country's ultimate authority.

"On the current situation, I was insisting and will insist on implementation of the law. That means, we will not go one step beyond the law," Khamenei said on state television. "For sure, neither the system nor the people will yield to pressure at any price."

He told opposition supporters once again to halt their protests and accused the United States, Britain and other foreign powers of fomenting days of unprecedented street protests over the vote.

Meanwhile yesterday a conservative candidate in the disputed presidential election said he was withdrawing his complaints about voting fraud for the sake of the country, state television reported.

The announcement by Mohsen Rezaie, a former commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, moved the cleric-led government one step closer to a final declaration of victory for Ahmadinejad.

Iran also said that it was considering downgrading ties with Britain, which it has directly accused of spying in recent days.

The government accused Britain of using spies to foment the protests. Iran expelled two British diplomats on Tuesday. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that two Iranian diplomats were being sent home in retaliation.


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