Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi wore black and carried candles during a mass protest march through Tehran's city center on Thursday to mourn eight people killed in demonstrations earlier this week. They took to the streets after attending religious ceremonies at mosques located across the Iranian capital.
Thursday is the traditional day of mourning for deceased relatives in Iran. Despite the gestures of mourning, though, it still remains unclear how many people were killed in the brutal crackdown on Sunday and Monday against protesters by security forces, including the paramilitary Basij.
Independent initiatives to determine the scope of the deaths have been scuppered by the Iranian government. In Tehran, authorities have expelled most Western reporters from the country, and those who have been permitted to stay have been banned from reporting on the events taking shape in the country.
If they want to report on the scale of the violence, journalists are forced to rely on information provided by opposition leaders and human rights groups. It's difficult work, too, since many Iranian groups and exiles abroad have their own political agendas.
The one thing that is clear, is that it appears Iranian state television's official death toll is too low. The station claims seven people were killed after members of what had been a peaceful demonstration attacked a military installation in Tehran. No other deaths have been reported, despite reliable information that an additional young man died of wounds inflicted on him after he was beaten by security officials.
Student activists also say more students were killed in raids on dormitories in Tehran and elsewhere in the country this week.
In a move aimed at quelling tension, Iran's top legislative body invited the three defeated candidates in the presidential election to a meeting on Saturday, Iranian state radio reported. A spokesman said the Guardian Council has begun a "careful examination" of the 646 complaints registered over the election results.
Earlier this week, the General Council pledged to recount part of the votes cast in Friday's poll. Officials, however, have repeatedly rejected Mousavi's demand for new elections. And this week his supporters took to the streets in mass protests, railing against what they say was a widespread fraud at the election, which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected to an additional term as president. Officials claim Ahmadinejad won the election with 63 percent of the vote compared with 34 percent for Mousavi.
German commentators on Thursday speculate on the next developments in the standoff and mull the appropriate European response. Many editorialists voice fear that the country is at risk of further bloodshed.
The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"The impressive mass protests in Iran are directed at supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's electoral fraud -- but they are putting a question mark above the future of the entire political clique. At the same time, the demonstrators are clever enough not to attack the Islamic republic itself. Quite the opposite, they are calling for more 'republicanism,' -- that is, a constitutional state with good governance."
"In its core, this is about a conflict within the elites which was to be settled through the (fabricated) re-election of Ahmadinejad. But everyone underestimated the populace's need to be taken seriously -- and the fact that the reform candidates could mobilize their supporters who are now, in turn, driving them."
"That is above all the case with Mousavi, in whose camp a grass roots movement seems to be forming. In this way, the regime is faced with the question of how to proceed. The demonstrators are so numerous, that they can no longer be clubbed off the streets. Even after a new election it would be hard to name Mousavi as president, without incurring the bitter resistance of Ahmadinejad's supporters. But a 'Chinese solution' would rob the regime of its last remains of legitimacy. At some stage they will have to decide between the green shade of hope and the red stain of Tiananmen Square."
The left-leaning daily Tageszeitung writes:
"However different the motivations are for the hundreds of thousands of people ignoring Iran's ban on protests, one point is clear: The mass protests hinge on the accusation of electoral fraud, and that, in turn, is related to basic human rights. The Mullah regime's retort that outsiders are meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state simply does not hold. Rather, all states have the right -- and the responsibility -- to urge Iran to respect human rights. That's the theory, at least."
"In practice, things look quite different. When democratic states deal with repressive regimes, double standards come into play. Criticism of human rights abuses remains soft if economic interests are too strong, the regime in question is too powerful, or if the country concerned is considered a friend of the Western world. Either criticism is whispered, or toothless international commissions are constructed to promote dialogue. It makes a big difference where the abuses take places -- if in Egypt or in Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, or in Iran on the other."
"Despite this, it is essential that governments of democratic states comment in the case of Iran. Experience shows that even regimes which appear to have cut themselves off internationally, are still affected by intervention regarding human rights. It is possible to trade with a country and retain an effective stance on human rights. The all-or-nothing point of view is not fruitful."
"However, it can't be said that the German government intervened diplomatically early-on in regards to Iran. The reaction of the security forces towards the demonstrators was, quite rightly, criticized in the international press. But the German chancellor's reaction revealed an amusing degree of naivety when she demanded that the charges will be dealt with by the 'relevant authorities,' quickly and thoroughly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly doesn't want to know who is responsible within these 'relevant authorities,' namely the Iranian Guardian Council."
"The reaction of civil society in Germany and Europe towards what is happening in Iran will have a far from insignificant effect on how the government proceeds. This becomes ever more important given that we cannot rule out an officially triggered bloodbath in the near future."
The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Will the Iranian protests soon abate? Or will tens or hundreds of thousands continue to take to the streets to demand new votes until the regime wobbles, or gives in or even breaks down? Will it end like Tiananmen Square 20 years ago? Or will it be peaceful, like in Leipzig before the Berlin Wall fell? The protests in Iran have a unique dynamic, and all options are still wide open."
"There is a real danger that the regime will respond violently. The Revolutionary Guard, or Pasdaran, complete with 150,000 men and its own air force, has grown into a considerable economic force. Among its ranks are those who control big stakes in the oil and gas sectors as well as the building and telecommunication industries. They have a lot to thank Ahmadinejad for -- and stand to lose a lot, should he be forced out of power."
"The other option, that the regime gives in to opposition demands for a new vote, is highly unlikely. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is playing for time and hoping that the situation will calm down. Whether the protests abate, or end in a blood bath, the current revolts will not end the theocracy, even in the unlikely scenario that Ahmadinejad leaves the presidential seat due to pressure from above. Still, never before in its 30-year existence, has the Islamic Republic been as shaken up as is it is at the moment. Never before have powerful players feuded so publicly."