The streets of Iran’s capital erupted in the most intense protests in a decade on Saturday, with riot police officers using batons and tear gas against opposition demonstrators who claimed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had stolen the presidential election.
Witnesses reported that at least one person had been shot dead in clashes with the police in Vanak Square in Tehran. Smoke from burning vehicles and tires hung over the city late Saturday.
The Interior Ministry said Saturday afternoon that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won 62.6 percent of the vote, with Mir Hussein Moussavi, the top challenger, taking just under 34 percent. Turnout was a record 85 percent.
Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister who had promised to reverse Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line policies, declared himself the winner by a wide margin Friday night, charged widespread election irregularities and called on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to intervene.
The landslide victory for Mr. Ahmadinejad, an intensely divisive figure here and abroad, came as a powerful shock to opposition supporters, who had cited polls showing that Mr. Moussavi had a strong lead in the final days of the campaign.
Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli said Saturday that such a lead was a misimpression based on Mr. Moussavi’s higher levels of support in the capital, and that he had less backing elsewhere.
Mr. Moussavi made clear in statements on Saturday that he rejected the results and called on supporters and fellow clerics to fight them. But there were no reports of any public appearances by him through the day, leading to rumors that he might have been arrested.
In a statement posted on his campaign Web site, Mr. Moussavi said: “Today the people’s will has been faced with an amazing incident of lies, hypocrisy and fraud. I call on my Iranian compatriots to remain calm and patient.”
But Ayatollah Khamenei closed the door to any appeals for intervention in a statement issued on state television on Saturday afternoon, congratulating Mr. Ahmadinejad on his victory and pointedly urging the other candidates to support him.
In a televised address to the nation Saturday night, Mr. Ahmadinejad called on the public to respect the results, and he denounced foreign diplomatic and journalistic criticism.
“All political and propaganda machines abroad and sections inside the country have been mobilized against the nation,” he said.
Mr. Moussavi’s defiance seemed to fuel street resistance by his supporters — a coalition including women, young people, intellectuals and members of the moderate clerical establishment — who had united in opposition to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s erratic economic stewardship, confrontational foreign policy and crackdown on social freedoms.
“Death to the coup d’état!” chanted a surging crowd of several thousand protesters, many of whom wore Mr. Moussavi’s signature bright green campaign colors, as they marched in central Tehran on Saturday afternoon. “Death to the dictator!”
Farther down the street, clusters of young men hurled rocks at a phalanx of riot police officers, and the police used their batons to beat back protesters. There were reports of demonstrations in other major Iranian cities as well.
The authorities closed universities in Tehran, blocked cellphone transmissions and access to Facebook and some other Web sites, and for a second day shut down text-messaging services.
As night settled in, the streets in northern Tehran that recently had been the scene of pre-election euphoria were lit by the flames of trash fires and blocked by tipped trash bins and at least one charred bus. Young men ran through the streets throwing paving stones at shop windows, and the police pursued them.
Earlier in the day, hurried meetings were reported among Iran’s leading political figures and clerics; some were said to be trying to influence Ayatollah Khamenei to intervene in a situation that could stain public confidence in the integrity of Iran’s elections.
But Saeed Leylaz, an economist and political analyst, said he believed that Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement would bring a resolution, even if demonstrations persisted for a few days. “This has put an end to political negotiations from above,” Mr. Leylaz said.
For the moment, Ayatollah Khamenei’s admonition did nothing to calm the opposition’s rage.
“The results of the 10th presidential election are so ridiculous and so unbelievable that one cannot write or talk about it in a statement,” said Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric and candidate.
Mr. Karroubi came in last with 300,000 votes — far fewer than analysts had predicted. “It is amazing that the people’s vote has turned into an instrument for the government to stabilize itself,” he said.
The other candidate, Mohsen Rezai, got 680,000 votes, Interior Ministry officials said.
In 2005, when Mr. Karroubi was also a candidate for president, he accused the government of rigging the vote in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s favor. In that election, the government announced when polls closed that there would probably be a runoff between two of three candidates, a reform candidate and a former police chief.
But by 7 a.m. the next day, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, a clerical oversight panel that is not supposed to be involved in vote counting, announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad was in first place. Mr. Karroubi’s charges were never investigated.
The turmoil on Saturday followed an extraordinary night in which the Iranian state news agency announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won by a vast margin just two hours after the polls closed. The timing alone provoked deep suspicion here, because the authorities have never before announced election results until the following morning. Mr. Moussavi also announced Friday night that he believed he had won by a wide margin.
Mr. Moussavi also complained about irregularities and unfairness in the election, saying there had been a lack of ballots in many areas and that some of his campaign offices had been attacked and his Web sites shut down.
The official results prompted further skepticism, in part because Mr. Ahmadinejad was said to have won by large margins even in his opponents’ hometowns. Mr. Rezai’s hometown, for example, gave him less than a tenth of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s total there, the Interior Ministry said.
The issue of vote-rigging has often been raised in Iranian elections, but analysts have generally said the authorities can manipulate the results by only a few percentage points, leaving room for genuine democratic movements.
Iran’s clerical leaders often point to past reformist victories as proof of the Islamic Republic’s democratic legitimacy. Many reformists have boycotted votes in the past to avoid giving the clerics that satisfaction. Those reformists voted in large numbers this time, inspired by a vast popular movement that rose up to support Mr. Moussavi.
Their bitterness on Saturday at the unexpected results was correspondingly severe.
“We are not disposable things to be thrown away,” said Mahshid, 20, a student who declined to give her last name because she feared repercussions from the authorities. “From now on, we won’t vote. They have insulted our feelings of patriotism.”
Meanwhile, the working-class areas of southern Tehran where Mr. Ahmadinejad is popular were largely quiet, despite rumors of wild victory celebrations.
“There might be some manipulation in what the government has done,” said Maliheh Afrouz, 55, a supporter of Mr. Ahmadinejad clad in a black chador. “But the other side is exaggerating, making it seem worse than it really is.” NYTIMES