A protester recoils after throwing a projectile at Iranian riot police in Tehran

Hundreds of Mir-Hossein Moussavi’s supporters were arrested in the weekend’s protests against the disputed Iranian presidential election, it emerged on Monday, as the opposition leader urged people not to be intimidated and to keep up their peaceful protests.

Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for the Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog, admitted that in about 50 constituencies the number of votes exceeded eligible voters.

His justification, however, was that it could be due to the lack of any legal ban on Iranians voting anywhere in the country they pleased. Mr Kadkhodaei told the state TV on Monday that the council’s ”investigations show no irregularities” in the election.

Mr Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the other reformist candidate, claim that in about 170 constituencies the turnout was higher than eligible voters.

But Mr Kadkhodaei insisted the council could confirm only about 50 cities and towns which he estimated had about 3m votes, noting this would not have affected the final results anyway.

The Guardian Council has agreed randomly to re-count 10 per cent of all votes. But Mr Moussavi and Karroubi have rejected this on the grounds that instances of vote-rigging were widespread and boxes were stuffed even before the voting had started.

Earlier, state radio said 457 were detained on Saturday - the bloodiest day of protests against the results of the June 12 poll which declared a landslide victory for Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the fundamentalist president.

At least 10 people were killed on Saturday, according to official reports. The footage of a 27-year-old student who was shot in the chest has become increasingly the symbol of the repression of week-long mass protests that have not been seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“Shooting people, making the city’s look like a military garrison, intimidation and the show of force are all the illegitimate outcomes of the extreme lawlessness we are facing,” Mr Moussavi said in his statement.

“Now by endorsing what happened in the elections, the government officials have taken responsibility for it, and have set limits on the results of any further investigation and auditing, in such a way that such an investigation should not annul the election or change its results, even while the number of votes cast in 170 voting centers has exceeded the number of people eligible to vote there,” Mr Moussavi said in a statement on Sunday. “In this situation, we are being told to follow up on our objection with the Guardian Council, but this council have proven their lack of neutrality in their acts, before, during, and after the election.”

Traffic in Tehran’s streets on Sunday evening was thin, with many Iranians fearing arrests or confrontation with security forces who were still out in force.

Mr Moussavi sought to calm people’s fears. “Protesting against lies and cheating is your right. Remain hopeful that you can achieve your rights and do not let those who are determined to disappoint you and intimidate you make you angry.”

He warned the security forces that “the memories of these days” could “leave an irreparable damage” on their relations with people.

Opposition supporters have been shouting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) from their rooftops, in a symbolic protest inspired by the revolution that cannot be stopped by security forces. On Sunday night, however, Mr Moussavi’s supporters reported that shots had been fired in the air in northern Tehran to try to silence the Allahu Akbar cries.

Following a general ban last week on the foreign media based in Tehran, restrictions further increased when Iranian authorities expelled BBC journalist Jon Leyne and arrested Iranian-Canadian national Maziar Bahari, a reporter for US-based Newsweek magazine and a documentary-maker for the BBC. Mohammad Ghouchani, the editor of Etemad Melli, the reformist newspaper, has also been arrested.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said that at least 24 journalists and bloggers were arrested since the protests began.

Meanwhile, a political party affiliated with Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the former president and key member of the Iranian regime, on Sunday called on Mr Moussavi to form a “political bloc” that would pursue a long-term campaign to undermine the “illegitimate” government

Tehran claims the protests are not spontaneous, as the opposition insists, but a plot masterminded by western governments, notably the UK.

Hassan Ghashghavi, the foreign ministry spokesman, said on Monday that the foreign ministry senior staff had a closed meeting with the parliament’s national security committee to study “various aspects” of “interference by some western governments” in Iran’s election and the following protests.

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