Iran gives opposition chief break from house arrest

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 10, 2011 9:06 AM
Iran gives opposition chief break from house arrest

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi was briefly freed from house arrest to see his family at the weekend, his website said, a move indicating that authorities might ease conditions for thehmmlderly cleric after eight months' detention.

Karoubi, held incommunicado since February when he called on the reformist "Green movement" to rally in support of popular uprisings in the Arab world, was allowed to celebrate his 74th birthday with relatives on Friday evening, his son said.

Some members of parliament have called for Karoubi and fellow Green leader Mirhossein Mousavi, also under house arrest since February, to be hanged for their role in massive protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's June 2009 re-election.

But with the likelihood of domestic and international outrage, state authorities have chosen instead to isolate the men, both of whom once held high office in the Islamic state.

On the Sahamnews website, Karoubi's son, Mohammad Hossein, writes of his surprise when his father appeared at his door.

"My father arrived at our doorstep accompanied by six security agents. Though he had lost some weight, he was nevertheless in great spirits," he wrote.

A photograph shows the cleric, with his white beard and turban, seated on a sofa surrounded by family members. "Seeing him after eight months transformed our small family gathering into a memorable and auspicious night," his son wrote.

During the one-hour visit, Karoubi, who was rumored to be suffering serious health problems, said he had recently been given a medical checkup. His security agents also said he would now be allowed weekly visits from family members.

Such an improvement in his living conditions may reflect official concern about a possible boycott of parliamentary elections, due next March, by reformist politicians who fear they will be shut out of the political process.

The March vote will be the first national election since June 2009 election that the opposition says was rigged.

The government denied the charge and said the post-election protests -- the biggest since Iran's 1979 Revolution -- were riots stirred up by the Islamic Republic's foreign enemies.

Mousavi, runner-up to Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election, said during a rare visit to see his daughters last month: "Given the continuation of the current situation, one cannot hold any hope for the election and the public's participation in it."

The former prime minister sparked a run on a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, according to opposition websites, when he compared his detention to kidnappings by notorious Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar in the 1980s.

"If you want to know about my situation in captivity, read 'News of a Kidnapping'," he was quoted as saying on opposition websites, referring to Marquez' account of the abductions.

(Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)