WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama called on Iran's government Saturday to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people," amid post-election tensions in the Islamic republic.
The statement comes as Obama tries to balance opposition to an Iranian government crackdown on demonstrators with fears of appearing to meddle in the country's affairs -- and while resisting demands from some US politicians for tougher rhetoric.
"We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people," Obama said in a statement released by the White House, as he ramped up the tone of official Washington reaction to the unrest playing out in Tehran and other Iranian cities.
"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost," Obama said, as thousands in Iran clashed with police as they defied an ultimatum from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for an end to protests over the disputed presidential election.
"The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights," said Obama.
"Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away," he added, quoting from the June 4 speech to the Muslim world that he delivered in Cairo.
Obama also stressed that if Iran's leadership wants the respect of the international community "it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion."
An administration official said that Obama "repeatedly met" in the White House Saturday with senior advisors to discuss the situation in Iran.
The US president also quoted Martin Luther King Jr in his statement, repeating the slain US civil rights leader's phrase that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
"I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples' belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness," Obama said.
Saturday's statement was issued as hundreds of protesters gathered in Los Angeles, New York and outside the White House to show their support for Iran's opposition.
Many protestors wore green, a color that has become symbolic of the campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader who claims he won the vote.
Outside the White House, demonstrator Babek Talebi praised Obama's public handling of the crisis.
"We don't want US politicians to make a political football with Iran," Talebi said. "Iran has changed for good, it's not going to be the same," he added.
Despite assurances by top officials that Washington would not inject itself into the crisis, both houses of the US Congress on Friday voted to condemn violence against demonstrators by the government of Iran.
The House resolution, which passed by 405 votes to one, expressed "its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law."
It also "condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cell phones."
A similar measure passed by voice vote in the Senate.
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