Iranian opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi has compared Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Shah, the monarch deposed in a 1979 revolution, following the government's crackdown on protests this month.
The unrest began on Nov. 15 after the government of the Islamic Republic, one of OPEC's biggest oil producers, announced gasoline price hikes. But the protests quickly turned political, with demonstrators demanding the removal of top leaders.
Khamenei has described the violence as the work of a "very dangerous conspiracy". The Tehran government has blamed "thugs" linked to its opponents in exile and the country's main foreign foes, namely the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Iran has given no official death toll, but Amnesty International has said that at least 161 people have been killed, while hundreds more are believed to have been killed. Tehran has rejected this figure.
The New York Times reported Sunday on the brutal crackdown carried out against the protesters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The Times reported on an incident in Mahshahr, a town populated by low-income members of Iran’s ethnic Arab minority. The report said that when the Guards arrived “they immediately shot without warning at dozens of men blocking the intersection, killing several on the spot, according to the residents interviewed by phone.”
The New York Times put the death toll across the country at between 180 and 450. International rights organizations, opposition groups and local journalists have reported that at least 2,000 people were wounded and 7,000 arrested during the government crackdown.
The Times continued “residents said the other protesters scrambled to a nearby marsh, and that one of them, apparently armed with an AK-47, fired back. The Guards immediately encircled the men and responded with machine gun fire, killing as many as 100 people, the residents said. The Guards piled the dead onto the back of a truck and departed, the residents said, and relatives of the wounded then transported them to Memko Hospital.”
Mousavi's comments about Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, were posted in a statement on the opposition Kaleme website. He made a reference to an infamous 1978 massacre which rallied public support and led to the toppling of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
"The killers of the year 1978 were the representatives of a non-religious regime and the agents and shooters of November 2019 are the representatives of a religious government," he said. "Then the commander in chief was the Shah and today, here, the Supreme Leader with absolute authority."
He called on the government to "pay attention to the repercussions of the Jaleh square killings" of 1978.
A spokesman for the Tehran government could not be reached for comment on the remarks outside office hours.
Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi ran in a presidential election in June 2009 but lost out to hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The two men became figureheads for Iranians who staged mass protests after the vote, which they said was rigged.
Karroubi, Mousavi and Mousavi's wife Zahra Rahnavard have been under house arrest in Tehran since 2011 after the opposition leaders called on supporters to rally in solidarity with pro-democracy uprisings in Arab countries.
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