TEHRAN, Iran — An influential Iranian cleric told worshipers Friday that those stirring unrest in connection with the recent election should be punished "ruthlessly and savagely" and convicted for waging war against God, a crime that under Shiite Islamic law is punishable by death.
In Washington, President Barack Obama condemned recent violence against protesters as "outrageous" and dismissed a demand by Iran's president that he apologize for similar previous comments. Obama suggested that it was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who should be apologizing to Iranian victims and their families for the violent actions of security forces.
In a sermon at Tehran University that was broadcast live to the nation, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami amplified the ominous tone that the state has adopted this week toward the tens of thousands of demonstrators who have massed in the streets to question the results of the June 12 presidential balloting. The government has deemed the gatherings illegal.
"I want the judiciary to … punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson," said Khatami, an influential cleric close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "They should be punished ruthlessly and savagely."
A spokesman for the Guardian Council, Iran's electoral watchdog, reiterated Friday that the council has found no fraud or significant problems with vote-rigging in the disputed election, in which Ahmadinejad is said to have beaten challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.
But the council later announced the formation of a "special committee" to review the election process and invited Mousavi and another opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, to send representatives to participate in it. It said 10 percent of the ballot boxes would be recounted in the presence of the committee, which would then issue a report about the election.
Speaking at the White House after a meeting with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama praised the Iranian demonstrators' "bravery in the face of brutality," adding: "The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. And despite the government's efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we condemn it."
In Sweden, demonstrators broke into the Iranian Embassy outside Stockholm on Friday, , police said.