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Leading Iran Cleric Dilutes Calls to Execute Opposition

Iranian regime loyalists hold a poster with doctored pictures of former president Mohammad Khatami (L) and opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi (C) and Mehdi Karroubi on the gallows during a pro-government demonstration in Tehran, February 18, 2011

A top Iranian cleric played down calls to execute opposition leaders on Friday, saying their movement has already lost its credibility and prestige.

Following Friday prayer, thousands of supporters of Iran’s government gathered in Tehran, and worshippers called out “Death to Moussavi! Death to Karroubi!”

Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi are leaders of Iran’s opposition Green Movement.

The two men have encouraged their supporters to rally in solidarity with Arab states that have revolted against their governments in recent months.

Both have been under effective house arrest this week. The government describes them as "seditionists" and conservative MPs have called for their trial and execution.

But on Friday, hard-line cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said execution was needless.

Jannati said the two are already executed and dead. He said they have been disgraced and dishonored and instead they should be isolated completely and should become prisoners in their own homes.

The rally on Monday was the first time Iran’s Green Movement has demonstrated publically in a year. The opposition movement emerged after the disputed 2009 presidential election, which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Anthony Skinner, an Iran expert with the Britain-based risk analysis group Maplecroft, says rallies in support of the government like the one held Friday, are not uncommon in Iran.

"We've seen this level of support also in the aftermath of the 2009 elections too, that there is a core of individuals who support Ahmadinejad, who support the regime," said Skinner. "And to a certain extent it is also fueled by the regime itself in order to show that it has a base, to show that this is not a one-dimensional uprising as such."

Video footage from Iran

Skinner says despite violent rhetoric surrounding Mousavi and Karroubi, Iran’s leadership may be cautious with how it deals with the opposition leaders.

"Rumor has it that the Supreme Leader himself Khamenei is hesitant because of the backlash this might precipitate, this might trigger effectively - that there might be an even stronger movement as a result if the leadership of the movement is taken out," he added.

Opposition websites have made calls for another rally on Sunday.

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