Thousands Protest in Westwood

Thousands of protestors, including students on visas from Iran and concerned Iranian Americans, gathered at the Federal Building Sunday as a part of a worldwide protest against what they called a rigged presidential election in Iran.

Iran announced Saturday that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected president with 63 percent of the vote, defeating Mir Hossein Mousavi and other candidates considered more pro-Western.

The margin of victory was greeted with skepticism and protests in the Islamic state and throughout the world. In Iran, the government has cracked down on protesters and tried to stop the media from reporting on the unrest.

In Westwood, protesters wore green T-shirts and bandanas and waved red, green and white Iranian flags in support of Mousavi while chanting, "Where are our votes, where are our votes?"

The crowd gathered at the Federal Building, across the street from the Los Angeles National Cemetery and around the corner from the Little Tehran neighborhood, a strip of Westwood Boulevard that has become the retail center of the large population of Iranians in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley.

"There were numerous polls before the election," said a protester who declined to give his last name. "Even a lot of governmental polls, pre-election polls, indicated Ahmadinejad had less than 20 percent of the vote -- at most. And Mousavi had 60 to 80 percent of the vote.

"The way they did the counting, (the government) replaced all the observers and brought in their own observers," he said. "They took boxes of polls and counted them in a secret room. The best evidence (of fraud) is the poll, the people -- the people standing in the lines (to vote)."

Protesters stretched down Wilshire Boulevard from the Federal Building to Veteran Avenue, where police kept order. No arrests were reported.

"We believe that there has been major fraud in this election," said a student in his 20s who also would not reveal his name, saying he has family in Iran. "They (students) do not accept the results."

Echoing recent concerns about American elections, he said, "For the first time, (the ballots) were counted electronically, so that's what makes us more suspicious that there was fraud. The (voting) numbers are ridiculous. (The government) didn't list the votes city by city. They just gave a big number of the country."

Similar demonstrations were held today in Boston, San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., London, Paris, Florence, Italy and in Lisbon, among other cities.

Media outlets reported that Ahmadinejad dismissed the street protests in Iran -- reportedly the biggest unrest in a decade in Tehran -- as "not important."

He said Friday's vote was "real and free" and insisted the results showing his landslide victory were fair and legitimate.

"We want the foreign media and not the Iranian media to fully cover this event," the student said. "Most of the publications in Iran -- Internet, websites -- they're all filtered and stuff. We want the governments from other countries to wait for the results."

Local cable television commentator Shahram Homayoon wondered how Ahmadinejad could get re-elected without a runoff when there were at least 500 candidates on the Iranian ballot.

"We're going to prove to the whole world that this president is illegal," Homayoon said. "Any type of contact, any type of talking to this president is illegal. All the embassies of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran -- all over the world -- they are illegal. We (the people) are going to control the embassies. We're going to control this government."

"If you live in the Los Angeles area, you know that we've done this for the past 30 years," said Roxanne Garji, one of the event organizers. "We're the human rights and democracy movement here in L.A. We fight the (Ahmadinejad) regime on every occasion that's possible.

"They fooled the young children (Iranian students) thinking that their votes were going to count," Garji said. "I think it's the people's patriotic feeling that when something like this happens, nobody should sit quiet. This
regime has to be removed in its entirety."

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