Turmoil continued in Iran on Thursday as a top cleric warned the Islamic Republic's rulers that their continued suppression of opposition protests could destabilize the government and defeated reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi said he was determined to continue fighting against "major" election rigging.
In the harshest criticism yet from an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, said: "If Iranians cannot talk about their legitimate rights at peaceful gatherings and are instead suppressed, complexities will build up which could possibly uproot the foundations of the government, no matter how powerful."
Montazeri, once tipped as a possible successor to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, also called for an "impartial" committee to be set up to resolve the worst crisis since the 1979 that ousted the U.S.-backed Shah.
Ahmadinejad to Obama
Meanwhile President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on U.S. President Barack Obama to apologize for interfering in Iran's affairs as several members of parliament refused to attend a victory dinner party hosted by the incumbent.
More than 100 MPs, including parliament speaker Ali Larijani, were notably absent at Ahmadinejad's inauguration ceremony.
"Apart from 70 members of the (Islamic) revolution faction, which backs Ahmadinejad, only 30 other principalists (conservatives) turned up," the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper said, adding that 290 boycotted the event.
Mr Obama made a mistake to say those things ... our question is why he fell into this trap and said things that previously Bush used to say
"Ali Larijani and his deputies were not there," conservative MP Javad Arianmanesh was quoted as saying of the Wednesday evening event.
In comments about Obama's recent statement in which he said he was "appalled and outraged" by Iran's post-election crackdown, Ahmadinejad likened the president to his predecessor George W. Bush and demanded an apology.
"Mr Obama made a mistake to say those things ... our question is why he fell into this trap and said things that previously Bush used to say," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"Do you want to speak with this tone? If that is your stance then what is left to talk about ... I hope you avoid interfering in Iran's affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian nation is informed of it," he said.
World leaders voiced increasing alarm over the situation in Iran and G8 foreign ministers headed into three days of talks seeking a united stance condemning Iran's crackdown on the opposition.
In the latest diplomatic snub, the United States said it would no longer issue invitations for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 Independence Day parties at U.S. embassies, following the violent suppression of protests.
Mousavi presses on
Defeated Mousavi, meanwhile, maintained that he had won the June 12 election and said the nation had the right to protest over the "rigged" vote.
"I am pressured to abandon my demand for the vote annulment ... a major rigging has happened ... I am prepared to prove that those behind the rigging are responsible for the bloodshed ... Continuation of legal and calm protests will guarantee achieving our goals," he said.
"I insist on the nation's constitutional right to protest against the election result and its aftermath...I strongly criticize the closure of the Kalameh-ye Sabz daily and arrest of those who worked there...The illegal confrontation with the media opens the way for foreign interference," he said in a statement.
Mousavi was the managing-director of the Kalameh-ye Sabz daily, which was closed earlier this week.
"Such illegal behaviors (closure of the newspaper) unfortunately will lead society to get information from foreign media," said Mousavi.
I am pressured to abandon my demand for the vote annulment ... a major rigging has happened ... I am prepared to prove that those behind the rigging are responsible for the bloodshed ... Continuation of legal and calm protests will guarantee achieving our goals
Mir Hossein Mousavi
Pressure on the opposition
Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist parliament speaker who came a distant fourth in the vote, cancelled a planned mourning ceremony as he was unable to find a site but plans to hold it next week, his party website said.
His decision came after a large force of riot police and Islamist Basij militiamen stopped a crowd of several hundred people trying to assemble outside parliament on Wedesday, according to a witness.
Another witness reported seeing police charge at passers-by, who dispersed into nearby streets, with some reports of shots being heard.
Iran's interior ministry banned all gatherings by opposition groups, which have staged massive protests in Tehran over what they say were rigged results of the election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.
At least 17 people have been killed in the post-election violence, state media reports say, but the foreign media is banned from the streets under tight new restrictions imposed in the aftermath of the election, making it difficult to confirm official reports.
Despite the restrictions of the foreign media, images of police brutality have spread worldwide via amateur video over the Internet.