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Re-elected president says violent protests in Iran 'not important'

PROTESTERS set fires and smashed store windows in Tehran yesterday in a second day of violence sparked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election.

Ahmadinejad dismissed the unrest - the worst in a decade in the city - as "not important." He said Friday's vote was "real and free" and insisted the results showing his landslide victory was fair and legitimate.

Along Tehran's Vali Asr street, tens of thousands marched in support of Ahmadinejad, waving Iranian flags and shouting his name.

Rival candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi released his first statement since the violent protests began, calling on authorities to cancel the election. He said it was the only way to restore public trust.

Mousavi, who has accused authorities of election fraud, urged his supporters to continue their "civil and lawful" opposition to the results and advised police to stop violence against protesters. He has claimed he was the true winner of the election.

The violence spilling from the disputed results has pushed the government to respond with sweeping measures that include deploying anti-riot squads around the capital and cutting mobile phone messaging and Internet sites used by the Mousavi campaign.

In the second day of clashes, scores of young people broke the windows of city buses on several streets in central Tehran. They have burned banks, trash bins and piles of tires used as flaming barricades to block police.

Riot police beat some of the protesters with batons while dozens of others holding shields and motorcycles stood guard nearby. Shops, government offices and businesses closed early as tension mounted.

In a news conference yesterday, Ahmadinejad called the level of violence "not important from my point of view" and likened it to the intensity after a soccer match.

"Some believed they would win, and then they got angry," he said. "It has no legal credibility. It is like the passions after a football match. The margin between my votes and the others is too much and no one can question it."

He added: "In Iran, the election was a real and free one. The election will improve the nation's power and its future."

Iran restored the cell phone service that had been down in the capital since Saturday. But Iranians could not send text messages, and the government increased its Internet filtering. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were also not working.

The restrictions were likely intended to prevent Mousavi's supporters from organizing large-scale protests. But smaller groups assembled around the city. About 300 supporters gathered outside Sharif University, chanting: "Where are our votes?" About a dozen riot police used batons to disperse about 50 supporters outside his campaign quarters.

Mousavi, a 67-year-old former prime minister, released a Web message saying he would not "surrender to this manipulation."


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