Iran opposition - AP - Feb. 11, 2011
Members of Iran's opposition protest outside the Iranian embassy in Ankara, Turkey on Feb. 11, 2011. Photo by AP
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President Barack Obama on Tuesday slammed Iran for its harsh treatment of anti-government protesters and called on governments throughout the Middle East to avoid crackdowns on pro-democracy supporters.

"The world is changing," Obama said in a message directed at autocratic rulers across the region. "You have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity. ... You've got to get out ahead of change; you can't be behind the curve."

Obama was asked at a White House news conference about the mood of change sweeping the Middle East in sympathy with the opposition victory in Egypt.

"It's ironic that the Iranian regime is pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt," Obama said. "They acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by using force against demonstrators."

Iranian leaders had sought to portray the toppling of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, both secular leaders, as Islamic uprisings.

Hardline Iranian lawmakers called Tuesday for the country's opposition leaders to face trial and be put to death, a day after clashes between opposition protesters and security forces left one person dead and dozens injured. Tens of thousands of people turned out for the opposition rally Monday in solidarity with Egypt's popular revolt.

"We have sent a strong message to our allies in the region... Let's look at Egypt's example," Obama said.

The U.S. president praised the Egyptian army, which is now in charge of the country, for reaffirming the Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

During Egypt's uprising, the military exercised restraint and did not fire on protesters. Buoyed by the Egyptian example, protesters also demonstrated in the relatively wealthy country of Bahrain and pressed for the ouster of the ruler in poverty-plagued Yemen.

Obama said there are limits to U.S. influence as people in the Mideast agitate for change.

"These are sovereign countries that have to make their own decisions, he said."What we can do is lend moral support."

"In Iran, in particular," Obama said, "America cannot dictate what happens." But he added that the U.S. hope and expectation is that "we're going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedom and a more representative government."

"Obviously there's still a lot of work to be done in Egypt itself," Obama said. "But what we've seen so far is positive."