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Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Monday, 22 June 2009 15:15 UK

Analysis: Iran splits widen

Protesters in Tehran (20 June)
More street protests will not be tolerated, Iran's Revolutionary Guards warn

By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor, Tehran

The warning from the Revolutionary Guards is just the latest threat to be aimed at the Iranian opposition.

The official line was set by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during prayers last Friday.

Iranians have been told that the election was fair, that they should accept it and if they protest on the streets they risk getting hurt.

A priority for the authorities is stopping any more demonstrations.

They seem to have recognised that the presence of so many people defying the regime fuels the political campaign being waged inside Iran's elite by the man who thinks he won the election, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

His key ally is former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose daughter and several other family members were briefly detained over the weekend.

'No going back'

The challenge for the opposition is finding a way to keep the demonstrations going despite the threats.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. File photo
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly denies the election result was rigged

The most significant thing about the demonstrations on Saturday was that they happened at all after such an explicit warning from the Supreme Leader.

Mr Mousavi's response was just as blunt. He has challenged the Supreme Leader's authority, like the demonstrators who support him. He said that the Islamic Republic needed comprehensive reform and the people needed freedom of expression.

Mr Mousavi and his supporters, who want the elections annulled, are unlikely to be satisfied from the latest announcement from the Guardian Council which supervises the poll. It said that there were irregularities, but crucially they wouldn't have affected the final result.

So the split between the two sides is widening.

There has been unrest on the streets before in the 30-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

But what makes this crisis unprecedented is the scale of the dissent on the streets and the fact that it is in parallel with a fracture in the ruling elite.

For the last 30 years years Iran's top leaders have disagreed with each other many times, but they have never taken their quarrels to the people like this.

Their stake in the survival of the system as it stood outweighed any advantage they might have hoped for by going public.

Mr Mousavi was a protege of late Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the revolution against the Shah, and is therefore a consummate insider.

But now he is publicly breaking with Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Khamenei. It looks as if there is now no going back for either of them.



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