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Turmoil in Iran, solidarity rally held at Queen’s Park – By John Bonnar

By John Bonnar

Two days before the June 12 elections in Iran, it already seemed possible that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could lose to his main rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi. On the eve of the election, Iranian Presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi told a hastily assembled, late-night press conference in Tehran that he had won the election. Later, Iranian state media declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner, with only 19% of the votes counted.

And so began the great debate over Iran’s election results.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the country’s election was a great success and “has once again approved its result.” Moussavi supporters, on the other hand, said the election was rigged, calling it a “coup”, and called for it to be cancelled. Mr. Moussavi called for organized peaceful demonstrations in major cities across Iran on Monday and a general strike on Tuesday.

Since then, a standoff between protestors and the government has played out in the streets, claiming at least 13 lives (other reports say 19) and causing countless injuries. Police and militia forces have used guns, truncheons, tear gas and water cannons to beat back thousands of demonstrators for the past week. Since the crisis broke open with massive streets protests the government has declared its refusal to compromise.

Instead, the Iranian government continued its efforts to block all coverage of events, but information began to trickle out from eyewitnesses and on social networking sites, much of it in the form of amateur video and photographs said to show the force of the government crackdown. Foreign journalists were banned from leaving their offices to report on the protests.

In a sign that the crisis in Iran threatened to spill far beyond the nation’s borders, the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, on Sunday called for reconsidering relations with Britain, France and Germany after their “shameful” statements about the presidential election, Reuters reported.

The New York Times reported that Mr. Moussavi again called for nullifying the election’s results, and opposition protesters swore to continue pressing their claims of a stolen election against Iran’s embattled and increasingly impatient clerical leadership. On Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei, reaffirmed the election results as valid and said there would be “bloodshed” if street protests continued.

On Father’s Day, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Queen’s Park in Toronto to show their solidarity with the Iranian people. But tension between Iranian expatriates was running almost as high as the temperatures, on this first day of summer. Hundreds of men, women and children, supporters of Iran’s deposed shah, were draped in the pre-Islamic Revolution Iranian flag.

Like the country’s current flag, the former one contains horizontal bands of green, white and red. But the emblem in the middle contains a lion, sun and sword, rather than the four crescents and sword introduced by the Islamic regime in 1980.

Rally organizers weren’t pleased with the show of flags considering, they said, the purpose of the rally was to support the people who are fighting for their freedom in Iran as opposed to supporting a particular regime.

“We called for a flag free demonstration where we try to unite regardless of political affiliations in support of all Iranians who are risking their lives,” said Sima Zerehi of Shahrvand , the largest Persian language newspaper in North America serving the Iranian and Afghani communities across North America. “Unfortunately, some of the supporters ignored the wishes of the organizers.”

From the makeshift stage on the front lawn of Queen’s Park, Iranian Canadian and Liberal MPP Reza Moridi addressed the demonstrators. “We are gathered here from all political stripes for only one purpose: To raise our voice against atrocities and bloodshed which is happening on the streets of cities and towns in Iran.”

Moridi emphasized the primary issues facing Iranians today: bloodshed in Iran, fraudulent presidential elections, and democracy in Iran. “Be united under one thought, under one slogan,” said Moridi. “Democracy is our issue.”

Moridi shared the stage with Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, Liberal MPP’s Kathleen Wynne, Mike Colle and David Zimmer, and federal NDP leader Jack Layton.

Layton called for the Canadian government to speak out in favour of democracy in Iran and to become a strong voice in support and solidarity with their Canadian allies. He acknowledged how difficult it is for Iranian Canadians as they watch the violence play out on the streets of Iran, as they listen to the death reports, especially for those who still have family back home.

“It’s time for Canada’s voice for peace to be heard once again,” said Layton. “And we call on our government to indicate very clearly that Canada is willing to work towards the achievement of democracy and peace in Iran, including if there were to be further elections that there would be an international presence there to monitor with Canada in a leading role.”

Layton promised to work with the Conservative government to convince them to take the necessary action.

On Monday, Prime Minister Harper made the following statement on the situation in Iran. “The reaction of the Iranian authorities to the demonstrations in Iran is wholly unacceptable.  The regime has chosen to use brute force and intimidation in responding to peaceful opposition regarding legitimate and serious allegations of electoral fraud.

“Basic human rights, including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, are being ignored.  Demonstrations have been banned and demonstrators beaten.  Injured protestors have been arrested when they arrive at hospitals for treatment.  Journalists have been prevented from covering protests and subjected to arbitrary detention and arrest.  Foreign press credentials have been revoked.

“Canada calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately cease the use of violence against their own people, to release all political prisoners and journalists – including Canadians – who have been unjustly detained, to allow Iranian and foreign media to report freely on these historic events, and to conduct a full and transparent investigation into allegations of fraud in the presidential election.  The voices of all Iranians must be heard.  I have directed the Minister of Foreign Affairs to ensure that Canada’s views are conveyed to Iran’s top representative in Canada.”

“Canada continues to be a strong and consistent voice calling on the Iranian regime to fulfill all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice.  For six consecutive years, Canada has led a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran at the United Nations General Assembly.  Canada continues to support freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Iran and around the world.”

Click here to see photos from the rally.

Click here to listen to a one on one interview with federal NDP leader Jack Layton .

This article first appeared on Rabble from the Toronto Social Justice Magazine and is reprinted here with permission from John Bonnar.

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