Sunday, July 10, 2005

Iran Protests Austrian Probe of New Leader

Tehran leaders sharply protested Austria's investigation into claims that Iran's ultraconservative president-elect was involved in the assassination of a Kurdish opposition leader, warning Vienna on Tuesday not to damage ties between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry officials summoned Austria's ambassador in Tehran to a meeting in which they said "such allegations are tantamount to following Washington" in its critical line against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won a landslide victory last month, state-run Iranian television reported.

"One should not allow the good relations between the two countries to be disrupted by allegations provided by Zionist elements," ministry officials told the ambassador, according to the report.

Austrian prosecutors on Tuesday said they were investigating new information in the 1989 slaying of Iranian Kurdish politician Abdul-Rahman Ghassemlou brought to their attention by an Austrian lawmaker who claims Iran's president-elect was linked to the assassination.

Ghassemlou and two colleagues were gunned down July 13, 1989, in Vienna.

Ahmadinejad has dismissed as "baseless" claims that he had any role in the slaying of the dissidents. He has also rejected separate accusations of being involved in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran — claims made by several of the former captives.

Iran has denounced the claims against Ahmadinejad as part of a campaign engineered by the United States and Israel to smear the new leader, who on Tuesday said the allegations be put to rest.

"The world has to bow down and respect the will of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The new leader received a key message of support Tuesday from Iran's powerful hard-line Revolutionary Guards, a force independent of the military and with a broad mandate to confront external and domestic "dangers" confronting the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They are allied with the "Basijis," a corps of vigilantes who enforce the Iranian regime's Islamic strictures.

"It's necessary to declare the readiness of the green-uniform Guards and capable Basijis ... to support and cooperate with Your Excellency's serving government," Brig. Gen. Rahim Safavi, head of the guards, said in a congratulatory message to Ahmadinejad, state media reported Tuesday.

The 200,000-member Republican Guards report directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The guards' welcome of Ahmadinejad came in stark contrast to their threat four years ago to confront supporters of outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami with "a hammer on their skull" if they threatened Iran's Islamic regime.

Ahmadinejad's election victory brought increased concern in Europe and the United States that Iran will take an even tougher line with the West — and tensions have been increased by the multiple accusations against him.

A spokesman for the Vienna prosecutor's office confirmed an investigation was under way as a result of new information provided by Peter Pilz of the opposition Green party concerning the assassination of Ghassemlou.

"We must check the information to see if the information provided by the witnesses is correct," said the spokesman, Ernst Kloyber.

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