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Iranians Take to Streets Worldwide after Election; White House Cautious but Skeptical of Iran Election Results; Ahmadinejad Says He Represents All Iranians

Aired June 14, 2009 - 20:30   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon live here at the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta.

The presidential election in Iran has created a lot of turbulence in that country and really around the world. Here's what we know right now, is that the man many people thought would become the new president hasn't been seen in public. And President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he can't guarantee his safety.

Well, supporters of the challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, returned to the streets to make clear that they do not accept the election outcome. Many accuse the government of rigging the election, especially after Moussavi appeared to be leading the vote count on Friday.

A letter posted on Moussavi's Web site demands the election results be annulled. And right now that doesn't seem likely. The apparent winner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president, held a massive victory rally in Tehran today. And you can see tens of thousands of people turned out.

The president also offered a glimpse of what the next four years might look like.


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator): Show me who dares to threaten Iran and the world. And if, God willing, this year if we go to the United Nations headquarters this year, I will address those powers. I will tell them which one of you dares threaten Iran? Please raise your hand so that the people will cut your hand off.


LEMON: Well, the U.S. is conferring with its allies about the Iranian elections. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, well, she met with her Canadian counterpart yesterday in Niagara Falls. The Canadian foreign minister said Canada is deeply concerned by reports of voting irregularities in the Iranian election.

For an overview, let's go to CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She's been in Tehran for the past week covering the election, and now the past two days and the ensuing protests. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sunday, the streets of Tehran belonged to the supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Hundreds of thousands of them filled one of the capital city's main squares and surged into the surrounding streets for a rally that was organized to celebrate Friday's election. And the result that gave him a controversial landslide victory.

Overhead helicopter footage told the story. And the president told the flag waving crowd they should be proud of their historic voter turnout and of the results.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Today, we should appreciate -- we should appreciate the great triumph of the people of Iran against a united front of all the world arrogance.

AMANPOUR: Just hours earlier at a press conference, he defiantly addressed the street protests and widespread complaints of fraud and cheating.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Our people's response is -- and the 40 million people who participated in the election are present right now. Close to 25 million people who cast their votes in my favor are also present right now.

AMANPOUR: Referring to the country's nuclear program, a combative president said no foreign power would, quote, "even dare think of bombing Iran's nuclear sites." And he warned other governments that he's watching their reaction to his re-election.

Despite the huge crowd out for him this day -- angry reporters of the defeated Mir Hossein Moussavi were out again, too, in much smaller numbers, nonetheless, full of grievance. At Tehran University, students waved fists and two fingers through the locked iron gates and they yelled, cheat!

(on camera): Despite the police presence on the streets and in some areas the running battles that they're having with the protesters, people are still allowed to be on the street. They continue to gather. There is no indication that there'll be any curfew or any more stringent punishment.

(voice-over): Hundreds of regular and riot police are out. But for the most part, they maintain weary vigilance charging protesters when they ventured too close. But it's the non-uniformed revolutionary vigilantes on foot and in waves of motorbike advances who are causing most of the injuries.

This young man shows us his baton bruises. Another weeps in fear after escaping a beating through an open door. The streets remain jammed with traffic, honking their protests, others wave and join in from the side.

This woman had a message for President Obama. "I just want him to know that this was not a vote for Ahmadinejad," she says.

Despite saying he was now president of all Iranians, whether or not they voted for him, when asked, Ahmadinejad failed to guarantee Moussavi's safety. Later, police issued a statement saying they had not arrested him. And a letter on Moussavi's Web site says that he's asking the authorities to nullify the election results while also calling on his supporters to refrain from any violence.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Tehran.


LEMON: The Iranians are very passionate about the election and some of the best sights and sounds have come from our iReporters. Boy, look at this scene. The streets seen yesterday in Tehran when emotions were especially high, the crowd was chanting "Ahmadinejad, shame on you. Let go of the country." And for security reasons, we've agreed not to identify that iReporter.

Our White House correspondent, CNN's Elaine Quijano reports on Iran's controversial election and the vantage point from the White House - Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Don, White House officials are being cautious in their public comments about Iran. They obviously don't want to be seen as interfering with the process. But they're also leaving no doubt they are skeptical about the election results.


QUIJANO (voice-over): As Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad celebrated what he called his re-election, Vice President Joe Biden made clear the Obama administration has doubts.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have all the details. It sure looks like the way they're suppressing speech, the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated that there is some real doubt about that.

QUIJANO: Despite reports of voting irregularities, Vice President Biden did not signal the administration would back away from efforts to engage the Iranian government. But he insisted the U.S. position on Iran's nuclear program will not change.

BIDEN: Our interests are the same before the election as after the election. And that is we want the cease and desist who seek in the nuclear weapon and having one in his possession, and secondly to stop supporting terror.

QUIJANO: Analysts say if Ahmadinejad remains in power the U.S. will have no choice but to deal with him.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: It's going to be very difficult for the Obama administration to say, no, we want to speak to a difference (INAUDIBLE) in Tehran given the influence which Iran has on major issues of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy from nuclear proliferation to Iraq and Afghanistan.

QUIJANO: But the dispute over Ahmadinejad's re-election also ratchets up the pressure on the Obama White House to get tougher with Iran.

FARIBORZ GHADAR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: We need to take a half step back from this administration's olive branch and apology approach to enemies and countries that have been hostile to the United States of America.


QUIJANO: Now domestically, there's also pressure on the Obama administration to get tougher with Iran. In a statement Senator Joe Lieberman said the Iranian regime had made a mockery of democracy, and he called on President Obama and lawmakers to express solidarity with the Iranian people -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Thank you very much, Elaine.

Tamping down the dissent. If what we're hearing from the international broadcasters is true, the Iranian government is trying to do some damage control in the wake of these protests, arresting journalists, slamming signals, jamming signals, et cetera.

So, alternate ways to get the information outside the republic are being utilized. And boy, can we attest to that. Our inbox literally blew up with the onslaught of responses of hundreds and hundreds of submissions via our Twitter account and some by Facebook and MySpace as well.

Want to tell what you some viewers are saying. Here's what AMFreeman says, "Thanks for covering the Iranian elections. However, I am tired of following global dictators. Any better news in your pocket?"

Bsims says, "It raises suspicions that Iran did not wait the mandatory three days to announce the election. Every negative brings a positive."

Ali2000 says, "U.S. government must step in. Iran has been given too much time. Those sanctions would be prioritized and UN must pressure Iran."

EbonyStarr says, "Great coverage today. I was critical yesterday but I will give CNN credit today. Thank you.

Mary says, "Your business goals are to do what it takes to bring us the news wherever you find it. If it's not reliable add a disclaimer.

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and is how you get your questions and your suggestions and comments on the air.

Now we see a very vocal election protest around the world. Los Angeles, New York, Washington, London. Also here in Atlanta.


LEMON: On a news conference today, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Friday's election was free and fair. But when CNN's Christiane Amanpour asked about his opponent's safety, Ahmadinejad avoided a direct question -- a direct answer. Here's what happened. Here's what he said.


AMANPOUR: You said that you were the president of all Iranians no matter who they voted for. I would like to ask you, what is the situation with your challenger Mr. Mir Hossein Moussavi and will you guarantee his safety? And why have opposition reform individuals, officials been arrested?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): The situation in the country is in a very good condition. Iran is the most stable country in the world. And there's the rule of law in this country. And all the people are equal before the law. And the elections have witnessed people turn out.

As I said even in a soccer match, the people may become excited and that may lead to a confrontation between them and the police force. This is something natural that a person coming out of stadium and they violate the traffic regulations, he will be fined by the police no matter who he is. Ordinary person or even a minister.

So, these are not problems. These are not other problems. They are for the people who participated in the election. And these 40 million people with safeguard the elections based on the Iranian culture. There is no partisanship on the basis of the western concepts.

In fact, people are friends with each other. And they're going to cast their vote in favor of any candidate they like. And, of course, such a voting process will not -- will not lead to any hostility among the people. And you go through the streets and see people who are friends with each other. And in Iran, no one asks the other whom you're going to vote for.

The situation is very good. And Iran is on the threshold of making considerable progress and definitely in the next four years the status of Iran in the world will be further promoted. And we are going to witness Iran's economic and scientific and cultural progress taking place.

Making considerable progress in the next four years, Iran will turn into a major economic power in the world and it's, of course, it's already political power as well.

AMANPOUR: I may have missed the translation. I was asking whether you were going to guarantee his safety.



AMANPOUR: Last night you said you were the president of all Iranians.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Yes, I did respond to your question. I said that people come out of the stadium, one person may be angry and he may pass the traffic light, violating the traffic regulations and he will be fined by the police.

He is also a member of the Iranian nation. Of course he has been fined for just violating the traffic rules. This has nothing to do with your question. I'm the president of all Iranians and as I have been in the past four years.

All people are respected. And all people are equal before the law. And I'd like all the people, all members of this nation. And, of course, I'm not happy with a person violating the traffic rules.


LEMON: You're watching our special coverage of the Iran election fallout and all across the globe Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the contested victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In Berlin, protesters gathered outside the Iranian embassy, chanting and holding signs in support of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi. About 200 Iranians lined the streets of London, outside the Iranian embassy, waving banners and chanting, "Where is my vote?"

Moussavi supporters don't believe the Iranian government's decision that Ahmadinejad won 62 percent of that vote.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to let them all know that this is not the result of our elections. This is absolutely fake. They've been cheating and we won't accept it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened to our vote? We want our vote to go back to the right man, who is Mr. Hossein.


LEMON: You know Iranians also took to the streets of Los Angeles chanting and waving flags and protest of the presidential election results. And for the details now, we go live to Kara Finnstrom. Kara joins us Los Angeles.

You know, Kara, I said Iranians, but there may have been -- there were other folks there besides Iranians. Am I correct in that?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There were. Although Iranians were the biggest group that we spoke with today. But a lot of different folks. Actually from throughout the Middle East coming out to show their support here today.

You know, Los Angeles is actually one of the largest -- has one of the largest populations of ex-patriot Iranians in the country. So the protests here large compared to what happened across the country. On the streets just behind me, police estimate that somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people came out to share their thoughts today.

People waving banners, some wearing green scarves to show their support for the Green Party. Now everyone here did voice to us that they felt this election had been stolen. But there were two very different points of view being shared here today. Actually on the two different sides of the streets.

One, very ardent supporters of Moussavi who feel, again, that this election has been stolen and showing their support. On the other side of the street, people who did not vote for him, people who actually want to see much greater change, they say, in Iran, people who want a change in the regime. And here are a couple of the thoughts that were shared with us today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Millions of Iranian who's are voting for better Iran democracy, true democracy in the best form and also no segregation between men and women, where they have to stand in the back of the bus, and freedom, basically freedom. (INAUDIBLE) is what we need. Democracy in a true form.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I would like to see is a regime change in Iran. I would like to see a secular government in Iran. I respect the religion, but I do not believe that the religion should be mixed with the politics.


FINNSTROM: And, Don, there was a little bit of tension out here on the streets today. Some clash in between these two sides. Again, all of these decrying the result of the election. So it kind of gives you a feel for the complexity of these issues and how many different viewpoints there are.

LEMON: All right, Kara Finnstrom in Los Angeles monitoring the protest happening there. Kara, we appreciate it. A lot of you are monitoring this online and following us online as well. And we appreciate that.

Also, we have to tell you that anti-Ahmadinejad protest turned violent and we hear from one of our producers who was caught up in today's street violence.


LEMON: Supporters of challenger Mir Hossein Moussavi are still taking to the streets of Tehran some two days after the election. I spoke with CNN senior international producer Samson Desta about the violent clashes he witnessed.


SAMSON DESTA, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL PRODUCER: We went to this undisclosed location. And when we arrived, we found that the building was shut down and we were told that Moussavi would not be appearing. And around the building I saw about 200 or 300 protesters, pro- Moussavi protesters who were chanting his name.

And when they found out the event was canceled and that the building shut down, they got very, very angry, and very agitated. And they started throwing rocks at cars that were passing by. Smashing the windows. And it was at that point that the riot police moved in.

And then you had this sort of cat and mouse game between the two sides. But at one point it got really, really ugly when the riot police moved in. They started firing tear gas at us and they came at us and they charged at us. And the three riot police came at me. The first one passed by me. The second one passed by me. And then the third one really got me in the arm with a stick.

LEMON: And Samson, was this the biggest protest to that point that you had gone to, that many people?

DESTA: No. It was not. Remember, we -- there was a -- somewhat of a peaceful march yesterday, 1,000 -- thousands of people showed up. And that was somewhat peaceful until the riot police moved in. And even then we saw a few scuffles.

Late last night I went out to one area in Tehran. And that one got a bit ugly. You had pro-Moussavi protesters that were out. They were burning buses. They were smashing windows. And they were facing off with a group of individuals who I describe as vigilantes because they were not wearing uniforms. They were plain clothed carrying baseball bats. They were carrying metal pipes. And they were just beating up anyone that was in that area.


DESTA: Today -- I went to a second -- sorry, go ahead, Don.

LEMON: Yes, I'm sorry. This is -- you said there was a second protest that ended up being even more violent than any you had witnessed?

DESTA: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. I think up to today this is probably the most violent that I have seen, that we have seen. We went to an area in midtown where we saw hundreds of Ahmadinejad protesters. The difference is these protesters, again, wear -- did not wear any uniforms, anything that would identify who they were except for their Iranian flag that they were waving.

They were on motorcycles. There were some on foot. But they, again, they had weapons. No uniforms but they had weapons such as metal pipes. And they were actually just driving around intimidating people, beating up people, anyone that was in the street, anyone that was in the road, anyone that dared to chant Moussavi, Moussavi. They were just beating them senseless. So that was the most violent that we saw today.


LEMON: I'm Don Lemon. A special extended look at the fallout over the election in Iran tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Our coverage continues after the break with a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE."


LEMON: We're bringing you special coverage tonight, fallout over the Iranian presidential election. The call fought Iran has not seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Now the man many people thought would become the president is asking for the election results to be thrown out.

The apparent winner, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, held a massive victory rally in Tehran today, but supporters of challenger Mir Hossein Moussavi are not ready to concede.

Pockets of Moussavi supporters hit the streets. Many believe the election was rigged. Moussavi, who has not been seen in public since Friday, is asking that the election results be annulled.

CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour asked President Ahmadinejad about Moussavi's welfare. The president responded by comparing Moussavi supporters to sore losers at a soccer match.