Iran Detains Opposition Leaders to Derail Protest March, Mousavi Aide Says

Iran’s move to detain the country’s main opposition leaders, Mehdi Karrubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, is an attempt to derail a march by demonstrators today and avert the turmoil that has swept through the region, according to one of their top advisers.

Karrubi and Mousavi, who had been under forced seclusion at home, were transferred to a Tehran prison, the opposition Kaleme website said yesterday. The two, along with their wives, were “arrested and taken to Heshmatiyeh prison,” Kaleme said, citing neighbors for some of the details. State-run media denied the arrests.

They “have become hostages in the hands of the Iranian government,” Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand, one of Mousavi’s advisers, said in a telephone interview from Paris. “It is surprising that two prominent political figures have disappeared and no government official takes responsibility.”

A crackdown on Karrubi and Mousavi, who both lost in the 2009 election against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is aimed at curbing dissent, which has revived as unrest roils the Middle East and North Africa. Protests that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak from Egypt, is now buffeting Libya, where more than 1,000 people have died and almost 100,000 have fled, according to the United Nations.

Detentions ‘Unacceptable’

Iran’s detention of opposition leaders drew a rebuke from U.S. President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, who called it “unacceptable.”

“We call on them to be treated well and released,” Carney told reporters in Washington.

Iran’s state-run Fars news agency said reports about Mousavi and Karrubi being arrested are false. The agency, which cited a judicial official who wasn’t identified by name, said the pair were at home and not in prison as reported by their websites.

Mousavi and Karrubi had earlier called for a Feb. 14 rally in solidarity with regional protesters and, according to opposition websites, were placed in seclusion along with their wives in mid-February.

Amir-Arjomand said conflicting reports about the status and location of the opposition leaders is an attempt to confuse and demoralize the opposition.

“For two weeks now, no one has been able to see Mousavi and Karrubi,” Amir-Arjomand said. “They have been unable to even meet family members.”

Protest March Called

The Coordination Council of the Green Path of Hope, a group that backs Mousavi and Karrubi, asked followers to march toward Tehran’s Azadi square from 5 p.m. today, according to statements posted on the kaleme.com and sahamnews.org websites. The opposition has also called for demonstrations every Tuesday until they are released.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday criticized Iran for pursuing “policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home.”

Iran is constrained by sanctions over its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies say is aimed at the development of atomic weapons. Iran rejects the allegation and says it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity and serve other civilian purposes such as medical research.

“Why do people have the right to live free from fear in Tripoli but not in Tehran?” Clinton said. “The denial of human dignity in Iran is an outrage that deserves the condemnation of all who speak out for freedom and justice.”

Accused of Sedition

Iran’s protesters, known as the Green Movement, demonstrated last year against alleged vote rigging that resulted in Ahmadinejad’s victory. This year’s protests, which began on Feb. 14, have since widened to include criticism of the political system and its policies.

Mousavi and Karrubi have been dubbed by the authorities as “leaders of the sedition,” and accused of being backed by foreign powers. Last year, Iranian prosecutor Abbas Jafari- Dolatabadi said the two will be put on trial “when it will be in the interest of the ruling establishment and once public opinion is ready.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kambiz Foroohar in New York at kforoohar@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.

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