TEHRAN, Iran — In the final hours of Iran's fierce election campaign, the top pro-reform challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got a sharp warning Wednesday that authorities would crush any attempt at a popular "revolution" inspired by the huge rallies and street parties calling for more freedoms.
The threat by an official of the powerful Revolutionary Guard reflected the increasingly tense atmosphere surrounding Friday's up-for-grabs election. It also marked a sharp escalation by the ruling clerics against the youth-driven campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi and its hopes of an underdog victory.
The Revolutionary Guard is one of the pillars of the Islamic establishment and controls large military forces as well as a nationwide network of militia volunteers. The message from the Guards' political chief, Yadollah Javani, appeared to carry twin purposes: to rattle Mousavi's backers just before the polls and to warn that it would not tolerate the formation of a postelection political force under the banner of Mousavi's "green movement."
In a statement on the Guards' Web site, Javani drew parallels between Mousavi's campaign and the "velvet revolution" that led to the 1989 ouster of the communist government in what was then Czechoslovakia.
Javani also accused the reformists of planning to claim vote rigging and provoke street violence if Mousavi loses.
Ahmadinejad is thought to have wide support in the Revolutionary Guard and among Iran's ruling clerics, though neither group has given public endorsements in a presidential race that has seen the sudden and unexpected rise of Mousavi, who was prime minister in the 1980s.
There was no immediate reaction from Mousavi or his campaign, and no public rallies or speeches are allowed the day before Friday's vote.
Campaign's intense end
The lingering images from the campaign's final hours summed up the intensity of the past weeks. Ahmadinejad drew tens of thousands of flag-waving backers, including many women in black Islamic chadors, as he claimed he was the victim of Nazi-style propaganda. Mousavi's backers staged a huge march through central Tehran waving the campaign's trademark color, green.
Two other candidates are in the race: former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei and former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi. In the increasingly tight race, their level of support could play a swing role -- with Rezaei expected to draw conservative voters and Karroubi pulling in moderates.