100 election protesters go on trial in Iran accused of trying to unseat government

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Around 100 prominent moderates, arrested shortly after Iran's disputed June presidential election, were put on trial yesterday, charged with trying to overthrow the clerical establishment.

It is the first time since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution that dozens of senior officials, including former ministers, vice-presidents and lawmakers, have been put on trial. The charges include acting against national security by planning unrest, attacking military and state buildings, and conspiring against the ruling system. Under Iran's Islamic law, acting against national security could be punishable by the death penalty.

State television showed footage of the courtroom with many young defendants, some handcuffed, and vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, and former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh in prison uniform. On trial are also prominent members of Iran's leading moderate parties, founded by former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. Both are backers of moderate defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi.

The indictment said: "These parties planned, organised and led the illegal gatherings and riots," IRNA, the state news agency, reported. "The Participation front had contacts with a British spy," the agency said, referring to Islamic Iran's Participation Front, the main pro-reform party set up by Khatami.

Iran accuses Britain and the US, of supporting "rioters". The West denies it. Leading moderates say the vote was rigged in favour of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The authorities deny the charge and Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has endorsed Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election.

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