New York, July 5 (ANI): Defying Iran's supreme leader and emerging as one of the most public signs of a major split in the country's clerical establishment, the most important group of religious leaders in the country has called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate.
A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, The New York Times reports.
It even directly criticized the Guardian Council, the powerful group of clerics charged with certifying elections.
"Is it possible to consider the results of the election as legitimate by merely the validation of the Guardian Council?" the association said in its statement.
The committee called on other clerics to join the fight against the government's refusal to adequately reconsider the charges of voter fraud.
The committee invoked powerful imagery, comparing the 20 protesters killed during demonstrations with the martyrs who died in the early days of the revolution and the war with Iraq, asking other clerics to step in to save what it called "the dignity that was earned with the blood of tens of thousands of martyrs."
"The complaints of other candidates were ignored and people's protest, which was expressed peacefully, was violently crushed," the statement said. The statement was posted on the association's Web site late Saturday.
The government has tried to paint the opposition and its presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult - if not impossible.
"This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic," said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University.
"Remember they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei," The NYT quoted Milani, as saying.
Since the election, the bulk of the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qum, an important religious and political center of power, has remained largely silent, leaving many to wonder when, or if, the nation's most senior religious leaders would jump into the controversy that has posed the most significant challenge to the country's leadership since the Islamic Revolution.
The association of clerics formed under the leadership of the revolution's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, came down squarely on the side of the reform movement.
The group had earlier asked for the election to be nullified because so many Iranians objected to the results, but it never directly challenged the legitimacy of the government and, by extension, the supreme leader. (ANI)