Iran president declares new era for country

TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday sought to put the turmoil over the disputed presidential elections behind him and declared on national television that the contests were clean, fair and marked the start of a new era.

His speech came as the country's top three reformist leaders sought to rekindle their opposition movement, demanding that ruling clerics end the heavy "security atmosphere" imposed after the elections and free those detained in the unrest, according to an opposition Web site.

It was Ahmadinejad's first national speech since the supreme leader declared the election results valid despite outcry from the other candidates and weeks of street protests claiming that the results were fraudulent.

"This is a new beginning for Iran ... we have entered a new era," the president said, explaining that the 85 percent turnout and overwhelming win had given his government a new legitimacy.

"It was the most clean and free election in the world," he said, adding that during the re-count "no fault was discovered. The whole nation understood this."

"This election has doubled the dignity of the Iranian nation," he said.

During the half hour speech, Iranians in many parts of the capital Tehran could be heard shouting from their rooftops, "death to the dictator" and "God is great" — actions that have become a symbol of defiance since the elections.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to have won the June 12 election, is struggling for a way to channel the widespread discontent since the vote but which has since been shattered by the harsh crackdown by police, Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia.

Mousavi hinted on Monday that he may move away from the tactic of protests and create a political party to work in what he called "a legal framework." Late Monday, he met with the other top stars of the reform movement — former president Mohammad Khatami and Mahdi Karroubi, another election candidate — in a show of unity.

The three warned Iran's clerical leadership that if the security crackdown continues, it "will only lead to radicalization of political activities," Mousavi's Web site reported on Tuesday.

But it is not clear how much margin the opposition will have for political action. Many of the top reform figures — including Khatami's former vice president and one-time members of his Cabinet — are in detention and could face charges of fomenting riots. Earlier this week, the head of the Revolutionary Guards warned that the elite force would take a major role in defending the country's system of clerical rule.

There was no sign of a let-up in the clampdown imposed since Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared the official election results valid and Ahmadinejad the victor.

Police say 20 people were killed in postelection violence and more than 1,000 arrested, though they say many have been released.

Authorities this week closed universities and dormitories, apparently because of Web site calls for new protests on Thursday, the anniversary of a 1999 attack by Basij and police on protesting students. It is unclear if anyone will attempt a march — not only because of the security measures but also because of heavy dust clouds and pollution hanging over the capital and other parts of the country the past two days, forcing the closure of government offices.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile, demanded the release of a young French academic detained after taking photos of Iranian protests and accused of espionage.

Clotilde Reiss, 23, was arrested last week at Tehran's airport as she was about to leave Iran after a five-month stay during which she taught French at Isfahan University.

"These accusations of espionage are high fantasy," Sarkozy said at a news conference Tuesday.

AP correspondent Elaine Ganley in Paris and Ron DePasquale at the United Nations contributed to this report.

of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona.REUTERS/Eloy Alonso