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Iran frees British-Greek reporter

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran said Sunday it has released a British-Greek journalist detained for two weeks during its postelection crackdown as opposition forces pressing their claims of fraud called for parliament to dismiss President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The freelance reporter for The Washington Times was accused Sunday of "illegal activities" during the protests that followed the June 12 presidential election. He was believed to be the only journalist without Iranian citizenship among the hundreds of journalists, bloggers and activists detained.

Greece's Foreign Ministry confirmed his release and said he would leave Iran "within the day."

The government's crackdown has quelled days of deadly street unrest, but authorities are still grappling with how to handle the fallout from an election that has exposed divisions in both the streets and in the clerical leadership. The opposition has claimed widespread election fraud and claims that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is the true winner, not Ahmadinejad.

Iran has released most of those it detained after the election, and authorities are moving ahead with legal action against some of those still in custody, including an Iranian who works at the British Embassy.

Iran has sought to cast the outpouring of opposition to Ahmadinejad's re-election as being led by foreign powers, singling out Britain and accusing its embassy staff of involvement.

Maintaining momentum
A week after the last street protest and with the main opposition leader not being seen in public, opposition figures tried Sunday to maintain momentum with a call for parliament to dismiss Ahmadinejad.

Ali Reza Beheshti, a close ally of Mousavi, said "people expect their representatives to represent them and not to defend authorities by any means."

"I wish the lawmakers would respect the demands of the majority of their constituents" and submit a bill disqualifying the president, Beheshti was quoted as saying on a pro-Mousavi Web site called Norooznews.

Beheshti is the younger son of Ayatollah Mohammad Hossein Beheshti, one of the main leaders of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and a top judge who was killed in an anti-regime bombing in 1981.

The British-trained academic does not wield the influence of some of the clerics who have criticized the election, but a call for the president's removal is a rarity in Iran and indicates the opposition is remaining firm in the face of increased pressure from the ruling clerics.

Iason Athanasiadis, the reporter freed Sunday, had been detained because of "behavior violating the profession of reporting," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi said, according to a report on Iran's state television. He did not elaborate.

Athanasiadis, who has British and Greek citizenship, had entered Iran a previous time on his British passport and was barred from returning for "violating the law," the TV report quoted Qashqavi as saying.

On this recent trip, he was arrested on or around June 19, a day before the clashes between protesters and security forces reached their peak.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said: "I am deeply satisfied over the release of Iason Athanasiadis. ... (We were) in constant, close contact with the Iranian Foreign Ministry."

Athanasiadis' parents, in appealing for his release, called him a reporter, photographer and filmmaker with "a particular love of Iran, and a deep respect for its cultural and religious traditions."

"We are encouraged by reports that Iason has been released and are awaiting confirmation," said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "However, about 20 journalists remain in prison in Iran, and we hope they will be released soon."

Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who has Iranian and Canadian citizenship, is among the journalists still being held. He has been charged with "agitating against the ruling system and acting against national security," his lawyer Saleh Nikbakht said on Saturday.

The government has insisted the vote was legitimate and that the opposition is being fueled by outsiders.

Authorities say 20 "rioters" and eight members of the paramilitary Basij militia tasked with putting down the protests were killed during the violence.

More legal action threatened
Officials had detained nine Iranians working at the British Embassy, accusing them of fomenting unrest. All but one have been released, according to Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, the lawyer for the employee still in custody. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Sunday two employees were still in custody, and one was to be released Sunday. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

Khorramshahi said the employee, whom he identified as Hossein Rassam, a political analyst at the embassy, was charged with harming Iran's national security.

The conservative political establishment threatened more legal action on Sunday.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi called for a review of complaints against people suspected of cooperating with foreign-based satellite television channels.

"An increase in the quantity and quality of the hostile satellite channels requires taking serious action to confront the phenomenon," he said in a letter to judiciary officials, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iranian officials have clamped down on media and blamed foreign news organizations, including the Farsi-language services of the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Voice of America, for the unrest.