updated 8/28/2009 5:51:52 AM ET 2009-08-28T09:51:52

Iran's president Friday called for the prosecution of opposition leaders over the post-election turmoil, saying that senior activists currently on trial should not be the only ones punished.

The call from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped up the pressure against reformers in the ongoing unrest that has gripped the country following the June 12 presidential election and proven the strongest challenge to the cleric-led regime since its 1979 inception.

"Serious confrontation has to be against the leaders and key elements, against those who organized and provoked (the riots) and carried out the enemy's plan. They have to be dealt with seriously," Ahmadinejad told a crowd of thousands in the capital Tehran before Friday prayers.

The president said prominent activists who are currently standing trial have to be treated with "Islamic mercy," portraying them as "deceived" into taking part in the unrest.

"These deceived and second-hand elements have to be dealt with Islamic mercy. Don't give immunity and protection to the main elements and punish the deceived and second-hand elements," he said.

More than 100 pro-reform activists and politicians, including many who have made public confessions, are currently on trial in Tehran. Rights groups and others say the public confessions were coerced by threats and abuses in custody.

Ahmadinejad did not specifically name the opposition leaders. However, many hard-liners and members of the Revolutionary Guard have publicly called for the arrest of defeated presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi as well as former president Mohammad Khatami.

Ahmadinejad admits detainee abuse
Ahmadinejad also admitted for the first time that detained protesters were abused in custody but also denied any government involvement, claiming instead that it was the work of Iran's enemies and the opposition.

"These actions that were carried out in custody ... were part of the enemy's scenario," he said. "Security, military and intelligence forces are free from these shameful acts."

The government has been struggling to contain outrage among many Iranians over persistent accusations that protesters were abused in prison.

The opposition says the crackdown on the demonstrations killed at least 69 people, while the government says only 30 people have died. Hundreds have been arrested since the election and the opposition says some of them died in prison from beatings and other abuse.

More on: Iran | Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

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