President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran called on Friday for the prosecution of reformist leaders over their alleged role in recent post-election unrest – a move that would risk sparking fresh street protests.

At Friday prayers, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad for the first time said judicial and security officials should “deal seriously with the main elements behind the post-election incidents” and gave warning against granting them “immunity”.

The fundamentalist president did not refer to specific names, but his call followed similar ones by hardliners who have been pushing for the arrest of Mohammad Khatami, the former reformist president, as well as Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were candidates for the presidency in the June 12 election.

The three have not given up their claims that the election was rigged and that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s government should be considered “illegitimate”.

Hardliners, including a senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, blame the opposition leaders for the post-election rallies, which were the biggest the regime has seen in its three-decade history and led to at least 20 deaths and hundreds of arrests.

Other Friday prayer leaders yesterday joined Mr Ahmadi-Nejad in calling for the detention of reformist leaders, in an indication that an orchestrated effort is under way to mount pressure on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, whose approval will be needed for any such action.

Some Iranian news websites have reported that Mr Khamenei has so far resisted such pressure to avoid fresh protests by the opposition.

On Wednesday Mr Khamenei said he was not confident opposition leaders had any ties to western governments, notably the US and Britain, which have been accused of helping reformists attempt a “velvet revolution” through street protests following the presidential vote.

The authorities are still worried about further street action by the opposition and some reports have suggested that the opening of universities in late September could be delayed to avoid student demonstrations.

Mr Khatami, who was president in 1997-2005, yesterday urged his supporters to be “more determined” in their calls for “change” and to pay “any price” to maintain their efforts.

Recent allegations by opposition leaders, notably Mr Karroubi, that young male and female protesters were raped in jail have unnerved the fundamentalist camp. In a conservative society such as Iran, in which the regime is seen as the custodian of Islamic morality, the allegations of rape, if proved, could badly damage the Ahmadi-Nejad government.

The authorities have so far denied rape charges, but they have acknowledged that some protesters have died in jail.

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