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Iran Protest Leader Refuses to Withdraw His Election Challenge

Defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has vowed to resist pressure to end his challenge to the result of Iran's presidential election.

In a statement Thursday on his newspaper Web site, Kalameh-ye Sabz, Mr. Mousavi said he will not refrain from securing the rights of the Iranian people. He said he is facing pressure to withdraw his election challenge but urged supporters to continue protests in a way that will not create tension.

The opposition leader, who has not been seen in public for about a week, also said his access to supporters has been completely restricted.

Mr. Mousavi, who lost to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 vote, has alleged massive fraud in the election. But Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the country's powerful Guardian Council say the results will not be annulled.

For nearly a week after the election, Mr. Mousavi's supporters staged massive demonstrations in Tehran and rallied in other cities in Iran's biggest unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Some of the gatherings led to clashes with security forces.

But pro-Mousavi gatherings have thinned in recent days amid a government crackdown. The authorities have been maintaining a heavy police presence in the streets to disperse crowds, especially since at least 10 people died in violence on Saturday.

There were no eyewitness reports of organized demonstrations in Tehran on Thursday.

But witnesses told VOA's Persian News Network that a larger-than-normal crowd of about 13,000 people flocked to Tehran's main cemetery Thursday, in part to mourn the victims of Iran's post-election violence. Residents in Tehran say on a normal day some 9,000 people visit the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, which holds graves for many victims of the Iran-Iraq war.

Iran's crackdown on the protests has included heavy restrictions on reporting and the arrest of university professors, journalists and ordinary citizens. Mr. Mousavi said on his Web site that at least 70 university professors were detained after meeting with him on Wednesday.

The official death toll from post-election violence is 17 people, but witnesses say it is much higher. State media reported Thursday that eight members of the pro-government Basij militia also were killed. The figures cannot be verified because Iran has severely restricted news organizations' abilities to report from the country.

A senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, warned Iran's leaders Thursday that continued suppression of dissent could destabilize the regime. Montazeri was once the designated successor to Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.