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Khamenei orders vote-rigging probe

MORE than 100,000 opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defied an Interior Ministry ban yesterday and streamed into central Tehran to cheer their pro-reform leader in his first public appearance since elections that he alleges were marred by fraud.

Security forces watched quietly, with shields and batons at their sides.

The outpouring for Mir Hossein Mousavi - swelling as more people poured from buildings and side streets and wearing the trademark green of his campaign - followed a decision by Iran's most powerful figure for an investigation into the vote-rigging allegations.

Mousavi paused on the edge of Tehran's Azadi Square to address the crowd, which stretched more than 9 kilometers. They roared back: "Long live Mousavi."

"This is not election. This is selection," read one English-language placard at the demonstration. Other marchers held signs proclaiming, "We want our vote!" and raising their fingers in a V-for-victory salute.

Hours earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directed one of Iran's most influential bodies, the Guardian Council, to examine the claims. But the move by Khamenei - who had earlier welcomed the election results - presented no guarantee it would satisfy those challenging Ahmadinejad's re-election or quell days of rioting after Friday's election that left parts of Tehran scarred by flames.

The 12-member Guardian Council, made up of clerics and experts in Islamic law, must certify election results and has the apparent authority to nullify an election.

But it would be an unprecedented step. Claims of voting irregularities went before the council after Ahmadinejad's victory in 2005, but there was no official word on the outcome of the investigation, and the vote stood.

State TV quoted Khamenei as ordering the Guardian Council to "carefully probe" the allegations of fraud, which were contained in a letter Mousavi submitted on Sunday.

"Issues must be pursued through a legal channel," state TV quoted Khamenei as saying.

The supreme leader said he has "insisted that the Guardian Council carefully probe this letter."

On Saturday, however, Khamenei urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a "divine assessment."

The results touched off three days of clashes - the worst unrest in Tehran in a decade.

Protesters set fires and battled riot police, including a clash overnight at Tehran University after about 3,000 students gathered to oppose the election results.

Security forces have struck back with targeted arrests of pro-reform activists and blocks on text messaging and pro-Mousavi Websites used to rally his supporters.

State TV quoted Khamenei urging Mousavi to try to keep the violence from escalating and saying "it is necessary that activities are done with dignity."

Mousavi, who served as prime minister during the 1980s, has also threatened to hold a sit-in protest at the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


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