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CNN Sunday Morning

Unrest in Iran

Aired June 21, 2009 - 07:00   ET



BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. From CNN Center, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING. It's 7:00 a.m. here in Atlanta, 3:30 p.m. in Tehran. Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes. Glad you could be with us for our special coverage of what's happening in Iran.

We have a lot of new developments that you probably didn't see because so much of this -- they trickled in to us overnight. So, let's show you what we're talking about.

NGUYEN: This is what occurred while you were sleeping. We're getting more footage coming in -- just showing the chaos in Iran.

First there's some video of people running in the streets as riot police move in. Hospital sources say: 19 people are dead after clashes in the streets yesterday. This is one of the many videos uploaded by people on the ground in Iran.

I want to get you another one that shows what appears to be the Basij headquarters on fire. Now, the Basij is a pro-government militia. Many of them dressed in plain clothes, wielding batons and other kinds of weapons, and that move about the streets in disguise.

And we're going to get much more on the Basij and what it does and what kind of threat it can pose from Ivan Watson at the Iran desk in just a moment.

HOLMES: Ivan is one of several people you're going to hear from this morning. We've had our reporters helping us cover this story. Our Ivan Watson, like you just mentioned, is over at our international desk where all this information has been coming in. Our Kate Bolduan is keeping an eye on things at the White House for us.

And also, our Octavia Nasr, our senior editor from Middle East affairs, has been here with us. She has contacts in the region. She has contacts in Iran, specifically. She's been working those contacts, but also keeping an eye on a lot of social networking sites. She's going to be along in just a moment.

NGUYEN: All right. So, as you know, we're relying heavily on video and witness accounts because of an imposed international media blackout. But here's what we can tell you so far: Yesterday was the worse day of violence since the contested presidential election. Video posted online and sent in by iReporters shows thousand of people clashing in the streets with armed security forces. Witnesses say those forces used about batons, water hoses, even tear gas on crowds who were trying to rally.

Now, we've also seen some video that appears to show protesters throwing things, perhaps even rocks and other debris at police.

HOLMES: And we have been getting a lot of video in. And again, like Betty was explaining, we can cue this stuff ourselves. So, a lot of stuff we're getting in, we can't really confirm where it comes from, when it is, but still, it starts to paint a picture of what's happening.

We're going to show you a graphic video right now -- one that's getting a lot of attention -- that shows a woman bleeding in the streets of Tehran.

NGUYEN: Yes. We do want to warn you again, it is graphic. But no one is really sure of this woman's real name. She's being referred to on Twitter as Neda. So, take a look at this video right here posted online yesterday. A blogger claimed the young woman was protesting with her father when a pro-government militia, the Basij -- which we talked about earlier -- shot her in the heart.

You see she does appear to be lifeless, at least not moving, perhaps unconscious or maybe even already dead. These pictures have had Twitter just buzzing over the weekend. There's so much interest. A discussion group is up and focused on Neda. Again, that's the name that they are calling her.

I want to turn now to our Iran desk for information and more video coming out of that country.

HOLMES: And as we mentioned moment ago, Ivan Watson has been with us this weekend, helping us tell this story. He's with our international producers over in our international desk.

Ivan, what do you have for us?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: T.J., let's take look at some video that around sunset last night in Tehran, what appeared to be clashes around of the stations of Basiji militia -- fierce clashes, you see fire, you see explosions.

And the Basiji -- they were important fighters, defending Iran in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But in the time since then, these government-funded militia forces and government-trained and armed forces have deemed themselves kind of the enforcers of moral codes. And they are not much liked by many women in Iran because they often will use force against women who they judge do not dress appropriately, not conservatively enough, not according to the standards of their version of Islam.

So, I'm going take you to some other video and show you how this phenomenon that women have been at the vanguard of these demonstrations yesterday. And we can see here women picking up stones, actually, in the streets, preparing to confront the security forces. It's not just men. It's women who are also very much a part of this action.

And if you read Roger Cohen's "New York Times" piece today, he reported the women urging the men on, calling them cowards if they didn't go and fight. And they are being hit in the process.

You talk about the woman that we've named Neda in the blogosphere. We also have video of women caught in the crossfire here, in these clashes. You can see these pictures of girls being taken way. Of course, the women have to wear, have to cover their hair. They have to wear this manteau, this type of smocks, that's according to Iran's regulations.

It's not just in Tehran. I'm going to take you to video that we got from YouTube. It's from the southwestern town of Shiraz, that's not in Tehran, it's Shiraz University where the police here are shown beating with clubs these women wearing all encompassing black chadors. And listen to the men in the background here.


WATSON: The man is yelling, "You bastards, don't hit that woman. You bastards, don't hit those women."

So, very interesting, the phenomenon that women are playing in the front lines of these confrontations with the very scary Iranian security force -- T.J.?

NGUYEN: That is just some compelling video right there, and showing that women not only injured by being on the front lines but also picking up rocks and taking to the streets and showing force in the best way that they can.

Let me ask you just a quick question about the Basij, because we've heard a lot about them today. They are kind of hidden, aren't they, within the populace? They are disguised. So, a lot of times when these protesters are on the street, they don't really know if the Basij is out and about, correct?

WATSON: Well, no. The Basiji have Basiji stations; they are scattered around cities. They have signs on them. And they have a logo which is a fist holding up a rifle. And they have kind of a uniform which tends to be dark pants and maybe a light shirt.

And people recognize them because they seem to walk around with a certain amount of authority in the streets. But they have been used in the past as the shock troops to break up anti-government demonstrations, particularly in 1999 and in 2003.

When I've interviewed the Basij in the past, they insist that that's not all they do. One of the Basij commanders told me, "Hey, listen, we organize book readings, we organize cultural events as well." NGUYEN: Well, I find it interesting because I've been reading a report here that says the Basijs shave their heads. They wear jeans to blend in with opposition supporters, infiltrating crowd and then attacking them. So you're saying that's not taking place?

WATSON: It's possible that that's taking place.

I have to make one confession, Betty. The Iranian authorities have not allowed me back into that country, despite multiple applications for visas, since 2005 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected. But this would make sense as a way to try to infiltrate some of these demonstrations. The Basiji is such a massive organization -- hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of members supported and trained by the state.

NGUYEN: Yes. In fact, not only they are supported and trained by the state, the state says there are some 5 million of them. So, that just kind of gives you a glimpse of what some of these protesters maybe facing on the street.

Ivan Watson, thanks so much for that insight. We appreciate it.

HOLMES: We're going to turn to the White House now. Our Kate Bolduan is keeping an eye on things there.

And, Kate, we were just talking about this yesterday. We're talking about a lot of people wanted to come out -- wanted the president to come out and take a harsher stand, to make a stronger statement about what's happening in Iran. And I guess they got what they wanted.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they did. Well, they did get a stronger statement, T.J.

Obviously, it was a carefully worded statement coming from the White House yesterday. But the president is repeating a little of what we heard him say on the record already, that the Iranian government must understand that the world is watching here. But he goes even further, speaking directly to the Iranian leaders in this statement and let me read that, just in part.

He says, "We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal right to assembly and free speech must be respected and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." When you hear him say "must stop all violent and unjust actions" -- those seem to be some of his strongest words to date.

Now, the statement comes after a day full of intelligence briefing and meetings with senior advisers on the situation -- on the situation on the ground in Iran and how to respond to it, according to an administration official.

Up to this point, the administration has been very cautious in its approach, very careful in its stance in how to respond to the situation. The president has said that he does not want the U.S. to become part of the political debate that was going on in Iran, basically saying this is not about the U.S., this is for Iranians to resolve in Iran.

But now, we see, T.J., after all of the video that we've seen since yesterday and today of violence breaking out, that you see now, the president coming out to say, "You must stop all violence against your people."

HOLMES: All right. Our Kate Bolduan from the White House, forgive for that little interruption there. Forgive me. But thank you so much. We'll be checking in with you again.

NGUYEN: There's a lot going on around here. We're trying to get some cues at to where we're going. What we're going to do next, because information is coming into the CNN newsroom very quickly.

Right now, we want to go back to Octavia Nasr, who is our senior editor for Middle East affairs. She joins us now.

HOLMES: You've been keeping an eye on things online there, Octavia. What else do you get?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SR. EDITOR, MIDEAST AFFAIRS: You know, the Twitter world is really abuzz with the Iran story. And Neda is still top news. You're looking here at my screen here. It will show you all the searches that I'm conducting. And I'll tell you, look, search for Neda, 12, in the last few seconds, 23 for Iran election, definitely big, big story on Twitter.

We picked up a few statements, a few comments from there that we'd like to share with our audience. One -- and we're not identifying the people for their own safety -- one says, aiming to negate -- I'm sorry -- one says, "Neda died with her eyes open. Shame on you if you keep yours shut."

And another one says, "If an innocent girl gets shot halfway across the world, does she make a sound? Yes, and the whole world hears her." And one more says, "Neda, the blood you shed today will make a million seeds of democracy and freedom take root and bloom a- salaam alaikum" -- which means "Peace be with you."

And then one last one, "On 9/11, the world said, 'We were all Americans.' Tonight, we are all Iranians." We're hearing that one comment a lot. Many, many people are retweeting it.

I want to show you something very interesting that I found online. You know how people always ask: How are people inside Iran communicating with each other? How do they tell each other about demonstrations or what's coming up? How do they know the details of where to meet, what to do, and so forth.

Well, someone found this online. It's called Khiaban, which means "the street." And they're saying this is an underground newspaper that the protesters are distributing among themselves. This issue is from the 19th, so, it's from two days ago. And they believe this was the first issue of this newspaper. Very interesting, indeed, when you look at it, because -- check out those headlines. One is, "Aiming to negate students' impact on the current development, university dormitories ordered closed." And another one here says, "Iran in a bloodbath." And then one says, "Workers of carmaker Iran Khodro on strike. And then, "Tens of thousands of protesters march from Tupkhaneh Square to Haft-e Tir. And then one more, "In the provinces, coup-makers practice violent oppression."

And basically, they do tell people to send them eyewitness accounts, pictures, anything, any information about actions by the police, by the Basij. A very interesting, indeed, when you read the language of this newspaper. It does sound like an underground newspaper.

We have no way of confirming that, but this is going around on the Internet as the first -- in this crisis -- the first underground newspaper, and that's, it seems, how people are getting information; along, with of course, the Internet and phone calls.

NGUYEN: All right. Octavia Nasr, watching it all for us from right here in our international desk in Atlanta. All right. Thank you for that.

You know, Iran is no stranger to turmoil.

HOLMES: Yes. We're going to be talking with a woman who survived the Islamic Revolution and has deeply personal insights into the bloodshed we are seeing today.

Stay with us.


NGUYEN: Well, the images, they are just so horrific. The world is responding, and we do have to apologize for the graphic nature of these images. But it's reality of the situation on the ground.

Take a look. This young woman known only as Neda, dying or actually already dead on the street there in Tehran. Bloggers are on fire over this scene. They are talking about it. They are speaking out. A lot of them just outraged.

I want to bring in now. Rudi Bakhtiar is with the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian-Americans. And she joins us this morning from D.C.

Rudi, when you take a look at these images, obviously, they are hard to see. But at the same time, this young lady named Neda is pretty much becoming a symbol of the fight for these protesters to at least have their voices heard.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, PUBLIC AFFAIRS ALLIANCE OF IRANIAN-AMERICANS: Well, obviously, this was a horrific image and our heart goes out to her family and the family of all the Iranians who are being killed right now inside of Iran -- just to get their voices heard. This is not the only image that we are seeing. We are being inundated with images coming out of Tehran in the past week of people being brutally beaten to a pulp, where they are not moving, and the Basij continues to beat them.

And then, we're seeing, as you talk about, Neda losing her life right in front of our eyes. You guys are blocking out her face but we are actually seeing these images, and we are watching our kids with their eyes open, losing their lives in front of us. And over what? Over the fact that the Islamic leader of Iran has issued an edict that if you dare to protest peacefully, we will unleash hell on you. And he has stuck to his word -- and we are witnessing this.

And I'll tell you, the Iranian-American community here is outraged. We would like to see this violence stopped immediately.

Parents all over Iran are going to different prisons, looking for their children, because their children are missing. They are going away in the morning and they are not coming back at night. They are either being arrested or being killed. And from all things that we're hearing online, on Facebook and for Twitter, their bodies are being taken from the hospitals without being identified.

NGUYEN: Well, we're also hearing too, Rudi, that when some of these injured protesters end up at the hospital, some of them are being arrested on site while receiving or trying to get treatment. And, you know, a lot of people are very cautiously using the word revolution. But is this the beginning of another revolution in Iran?

BAKHTIAR: I was a child during the revolution in Iran but I remember it very well. And all of the images I am seeing remind me of the revolution of Iran. And again, all the analysts are hesitant to call this a revolution. And I'm not certainly calling it a revolution. But it is something very powerful.

And these are exactly the things that happen, leading up to the revolution of Iran. We saw -- you know, the revolution of Iran didn't happen overnight. It happened over several months, almost a year. And these -- the violence that you see spurred on people to even come back and protest more.

The "Allahu Akbar" that you hear from the rooftops at night are really an indication of what is going to happen the next day. And I can tell you, as a child going on the rooftop and hearing a million people, sometimes more, all chanting "Allahu Akbar" at the same time, was so powerful. It reverberated throughout your entire body.

And that's what we're seeing now. We're getting these images from Iran which are showing exactly that.

And, you know, I have to say, that these Basijis -- the brutality that we are seeing from these Basijis is something that I would witnessed firsthand as a teenager growing up in Iran, because I came out of Iran several years after the revolution, at the age of 17. These are young boys that are being trained to basically target the girls and men who aren't dressed appropriately during regular times. NGUYEN: And they follow their own rules, don't they?

BAKHTIAR: They follow the Revolutionary Guard rules, but are given an open mandate apparently to do what they please.


BAKHTIAR: And, again, the images we are seeing are showing the brutality of this government. They are -- they are open-firing on people as they are peacefully protesting.

NGUYEN: Yes. We're hearing lots of reports of that.

Rudi -- and we're going to be talking to you in the next hour as well. So, thanks so much for your time and your insight this morning. We'll check in with you at 8:00 o'clock Eastern.

Rudi Bakhtiar --

BAKHTIAR: Thank you to CNN for covering this so well.

NGUYEN: Well, thank you. We appreciate it.

HOLMES: And we're going to pick up on the point you all were just making about the Basij, some of the most feared men in Iran. Yet, they have come face-to-face with the demonstrators out there on streets. And some say, those out on the streets are pretty fearless right now.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. And we're seeing the results of what happens when you put the Basij up against fearless protesters. We have an expert who's going to weigh in with much more on this.

Stay right here. You're watching CNN SUNDAY MORNING.


HOLMES: Well, a lot of the images, some of those images that are hard to see we have been getting coming out of Iran. Some are saying it's the work of the Basij -- the Basij militia that you've been hearing a lot about over the past couple of days.

I want to bring in Badi Badiozamani, an author, a scholar, and expert on Iran, who's been with us this weekend.

A long day for you yesterday. We appreciate your expertise as well.

The Basij -- everything we're seeing out there on the streets. All this video, this harsh video of the clashes -- is this the work of that harsh militia or how many forces we have out there battling these protesters really?

BADI BADIOZAMANI, AUTHOR, SCHOLAR AND IRAN EXPERT: We have various forces, numerous forces. We have the Basij. We have the Pastaran or the Revolutionary Guards. We have other forces.

I heard last night, somebody talking about Basij like boy scouts. That couldn't be the furthest from the truth. It dawned on me. Remember, during the war -- you don't remember, you are too young.

HOLMES: All right.

BADIOZAMANI: World War II, the youth organization in Nazi Germany, that will be a close comparison.

HOLMES: Who are they taking orders from, the Basij?

BADIOZAMANI: Nothing is absolutely framed work. So they have their own commanders. Recently, they came under the command of the Revolutionary Guard. So, they are trying to make them a little bit more formal, although they don't have any uniforms yet.

HOLMES: So, what necessarily is their mission out there right now?

BADIOZAMANI: Well, I'm trying to us -- be very diplomatic. Use terms that ...


BADIOZAMANI: But yet, at the same time, we can't -- we have to be truthful. Their mission is to be there to do many things that the uniform or official agents of any government are not allowed to do by law. That's -- I think that's the best way to characterize it. Whatever they want to do to your subjects or to your people but you don't want to get caught, as you are doing it or you are ordering it, you do it through the Basij.

HOLMES: Is that who people know to fear the most, the Basij, more so to -- that they know they can take it a step further than maybe even the Revolutionary Guard there?

BADIOZAMANI: That's part of it. The other part is that they are not in uniform. So, sometimes, it's difficult to know whether the next -- the person standing next to you is a Basiji, is a government agent or is not.

HOLMES: One thing -- well, I got to let you go here -- but did you notice something, you and I talked about this a little bit yesterday about, this is going to kind of transform between or from being about the election and a vote being taken and Mousavi, to the young people, just being on the streets and wanting a change of regime and the government all together.

Just quickly here, didn't see a whole lot of green actually in the lot of video I saw yesterday that the color that Mousavi --

BADIOZAMANI: The Iranians are very intelligent. They thought -- if I'm wearing green and they can catch me, they can arrest me. Then I can't go to the place that I'm supposed to go, where I want to go, to gather together, to rally. But then if I'm in plain clothes, then I say I'm going home. So they can't stop me.

HOLMES: So, you think this is still a lot about Mousavi for a lot of them out there?


HOLMES: For some. All right.

BADIOZAMANI: But let's keep in mind, this movement is much bigger than Mousavi, much bigger than the election.

HOLMES: All right. We're going to leave it right there. I know you're going to be around plenty. We're going to be hearing from you plenty today on our air here at CNN.

Again, Badi Badiozamani, appreciate having you as always. We'll talk to you again here soon.


HOLMES: We're going to get the very latest on what's happening there in Iran. Don't go away. Our special coverage continues.


NGUYEN: Hello, everybody and welcome back to the special coverage of the Iran election fallout on this Sunday morning. I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: Hello to you all, I'm T.J. Holmes. Let's get to you the very latest now about what's happening in Iran. We saw protests that were not silent and in defiance what the supreme leaders told Iranians to do on Friday. Look at some of this video we're getting a lot of this video of course not being shot by us because there are restrictions on what CNN and other foreign media can do. So a lot of this coming through as the when and the where and how on what is going on in these videos. We have to let it speak for itself because we're unable to confirm a lot of this video.

A lot of violence we've been seeing. Hospital sources confirm 19 people have been killed. Again that's coming to us from hospital sources. Some of the injured taken to area hospitals and also reports that some of those are being arrested as they try to seek medical treatment. Again, still a situation that obviously is developing there in Iran.

NGUYEN: Joining us right now, here in live at CNN Center World Headquarters for CNN is Samson Desta who is our Dubai Bureau Chief. You just returned from Iran, in fact you were there with Christiane Amanpour. Give us an idea of what that experience was like because you watched it pre-election during the vote and then afterwards. So, I guess how emboldened are the people there to have their voices heard?

SAMSON DESTA, DUBAI BUREAU CHIEF: Quite passionate. Very, very dedicated. We were there before the elections, and you could see how people were very confident. They were out in the street celebrating, dancing and jubilant. I was there a couple of months before nobody was speaking to you on camera particularly when it comes to politics. This time they were vocal, they wanted change, they wanted a sense of freedom and very open about whom they were supporting. Now that's something that's very unusual. You could see this confidence being built. So that was, again, before the election and things clearly changed after the vote.

HOLMES: Now you can give us a sense of the before. The confidence that they were feeling. Does it seem now and some of the coverage you've seen since you left and the protests we've seen, at first it was about a change and we're backing Mir Hossein Mousavi and this is our guy. But now it seems to be a little different to where they are looking for a whole change of life, a change of a way of life, of freedoms and the change of the whole Islamic Republic. Did you see a lot of that before the election, talking of regime change or change of president? Do you know what I am saying?

DESTA: I don't think there was a sense that they wanted to change of regime. What they wanted was somebody else that would represent them, represent Iran. Someone who would give them some individually better, some sort of freedom. This is what they were calling for from the beginning. And the fact that they were out there in numbers and most interestingly the women were leading the charge. That's what's very interesting. The women were out there calling for freedom.

NGUYEN: Why do you think that was this time around? So many women at the forefront of this movement?

DESTA: This is something that's not quite clear at this point. We were quite surprised as Christiane Amanpour reported throughout the process that women were out leading this charge. In fact a number of times when we were out and there was chaos and rioting, the women, again, were at the forefront. A lot of the men would run away when the militia would come after them. The women would say come back.

NGUYEN: Some were calling the men who were running cowards. Do you think any of this has any effect on the fact that 63 percent of the college students in Iran are women? So you're seeing a young highly educated group of women that are really taking to the streets and wanting to make sure that they have additional freedoms in their country.

DESTA: Right. This is exactly what they are calling for. Why don't we have the same rights? I've been in Tehran a couple of times, women still ride in the back of the bus. They are calling for more freedom. They want to be able to do things that other people can do. So it's not a call for change of regime at all. That's not what they are calling for. They want someone who will represent them as a human being, as a woman, as an Iranian and they said time and time again we didn't vote for this president, we voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi and we want our vote counted.

HOLMES: What happened there? You said months ago people were afraid to speak to you before the cameras and then right before the election everybody was out and they were jubilant. How confident were they, was it just understood in the streets that there was no way Mir Hossein Mousavi would lose this thing.

DESTA: Absolutely. 100 percent. They were so confident he was going to win. That's why they saw them out in force. One place we saw a woman riding on a motorcycle, dancing in front of men. And, you know, we thought wow, when did you expect to see this? But that's how confident they were. They were very, very vocal. And then again I said most importantly they spoke before the camera, very openly. Very confidently because they thought they would win. When they didn't win it was a shock, you could see it visibly on their faces.

NGUYEN: We're going to have you back next hour and I want to talk to you then about what it was like covering this election, before the vote then after the vote because as you know there's currently a media blackout on all foreign journalists and it's become very difficult if not impossible to get any information out of there. So we will be talking about that in the next hour. Thanks so much for joining us.

DESTA: You're welcome.

NGUYEN: Good to see you back here.

HOLMES: Good to see you. We used to work right here in Atlanta with us.

NGUYEN: He used to sit right over there.

HOLMES: He's our Dubai bureau chief. We haven't seen you in a while, so you just walked through the door. Come get on TV because we talked to you while you were in Iran. Good to just see you back in here.

DESTA: You bet.

NGUYEN: Good to see you.

HOLMES: We have a quick break. We'll be right back.


NGUYEN: Welcome back everybody. Foreign policy analyst Reva Bhalla is with a private global intelligence company called the Stratfor and she joins me now from D.C. to talk about the situation in Iran that we're watching unfold as we speak. Reva, I want to talk to you first of all about what we're seeing in the streets. We got the video now of a woman that many in the blogosphere are calling Neda. They are really taking up these pictures and using her as an example of what happens when you speak out and you are trying to fight for freedom on the streets of Iran. Is this something that's more than just an election? Is this something that's more about a movement now?

REVA BHALLA, IRAN AFFAIRS ANALYST, STRATFOR: Well, I think Tehran has become this sort of a glass house and, you know, the windows are a little muddy because of the media censors. There are a lot of creative and informal ways and word-of-mouth. Everyone is beginning to see the tactics being used in the city against protesters and that's having a huge effect on people here in the exile community and Iran. It's important to keep in mind several things. This is one segment of the Iranian population and some serious fissures are coming to light. But the protesters on the street in the exile community are several steps ahead of the agenda of several declared goal leads who are also in the debate with the leadership over who the president should be. So, again --

NGUYEN: Because it seems like, and I want to get some clarification and find out where you stand on this, at least where you are seeing it. It seems like the movement is progressing so rapidly that perhaps it may even be ahead of Mir Hossein Mousavi, maybe the movement is leading him and him not leading it.

BHALLA: Yes, I think that's an accurate statement. And you remember that numbers of the clerical elite like Mousavi and very important figures like Rafsanjani, like Larijani, each one is dealing with this in their own ways. Some are being a little bit more careful like Larijani in their protests in saying things that are contradicting the supreme leader but still staying within the confines of the law. But remember many of these members of the elite they accumulated their wealth through the clerical establishment. This isn't a call for a complete regime change or an overthrow of the clerical establishment. Far from it. And there is definitely a gap between the street demonstrators and the members of the elite who are fighting this which is definitely something to keep a mind on.

NGUYEN: Reva, I want to talk about two of the people in the center of what is going on right now. First of all, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the man who was re-elected according to the vote count and the disputed vote count I should say. Where he is in all of this? We've not seen him?

BHALLA: It seems he's been kind of staying out of the spot light. There are some rumors that he was in Qom. Qom is the bastion of Shiism and Islamic scholarship in Iran. That is certainly a city to keep an eye on because Qom is not unified behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Larijani, who is a very powerful member within the establishment, through his family links especially, he's kind of representative of Qom in a big way, and since he's also opposing the Guardian Council, that's very significant. So Ahmadinejad is trying to build up that support within the establishment to make sure he's secure, especially when he's up against very powerful figures like Rafsanjani, like Larijani, and others as well.

NGUYEN: And then a lot of these protesters waiting, wanting to see Mir Hossein Mousavi, there were report that maybe he was going to come out yesterday and speak to the protesters. A lot of people still have not seen him as of yet. Do you know why, is there a fear for his safety, his security?

BHALLA: No, we also have not. We lost touch with our Mir Hossein Mousavi contacts currently and of course these are intimidation tactics that work. They are going after family members. So, you know, again, he wasn't willing to take this probably as far as the demonstrators would like, but people are running their own agenda. People are claiming he's declared himself martyr. Who knows if that is true but it's something that's being used to give moral support to the demonstrators on the street. Even if his personality is being hijacked in a sense to lead these demonstrations, it serves a purpose for the demonstrators. Where Mir Hossein Mousavi is currently no one has a good idea.

NGUYEN: Yes, the only thing we heard yesterday was that he going through the ritual to prepare himself for martyrdom should that happen but we have yet to see him. We'll be watching as always. Reva, thank you so much for your insight. Of course we'll be checking in with you throughout the morning as well. We do appreciate it.

Well, the driving force behind the outrage in Iran the youngest voters. What's making them so angry and why they have so much clout. We'll delve into that when we come right back.


NGUYEN: Well Saturday's eruption of violence in Iran has provoked condemnation for President Obama, and in a statement he says, "The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violence and unjust actions against its own people. The universal the right assembly and free speech must be respected and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." That again coming from President Obama.

Well CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser joins us now from Washington. You know, Paul, this seems to be his toughest words so far about the situation in Iran.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, they really seem to be. You've seen different kind of language from the president starting Friday and then definitely in the statement yesterday as well, Betty. Maybe Republicans would like to think they can take credit for it. I don't think the White House would agree with that. A lot of top Republicans all this past week very critical of the president saying the president had not been stern enough in reacting to what was going on in Iran and not being tough enough with the Iranian government.

Republicans and Congress, some of them introduced a resolution this past week that went a lot further than what the White House went in saying in condemning the violence that resolution is watered down a little bit by Democrats and it passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress on Friday. Sen. John McCain was the sponsor of that resolution in the Senate. Take a listen to what he said on Friday.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: It's Unfortunate in a way that this resolution is required since the administration does not want to quote meddle and has refused, the president has refused to speak out in support of these brave Iranian citizens, most of them young who are risking their very lives to protest what was clearly an unfair and corrupt election.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STEINHAUSER: You know, I think a good indicator how Republicans feel is what they say. Today on the Sunday talk show, Senator John McCain will be on a couple of them and Senator Lugar he is the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is going to be on with John King so Betty we are going to listen in to see what the Republicans say today.

NGUYEN: Yes. As Senator McCain has been critical of the president's words or lack of words. What are other Republicans saying about this? Have they come down hard on the president as well?

STEINHAUSER: Some other Republicans have as well, yes. Congressman Cantor, two top Republicans have been very critical. But not all Republicans have been speaking out like this. Many have been supporting the president. What do the American people think of all this? We don't have any polls unfortunately just on this crises and how the president is handling it, but take a look at these number from about a week ago from CBS and "New York Times." This is overall on how the president is conducting his foreign policy, 6 in 10 Americans approving of how the president is handling foreign policy. You're seeing similar numbers from other polls, as well.


NGUYEN: All right. Political director Paul Steinhauser a friend of our show. Thanks so much for joining us, up early this Sunday morning.


HOLMES: How Americans are showing their support for frustrated Iranians. That's when we come back.


HOLMES: All right. We've been seeing these protests in the streets. We think we know what it's about. Demonstrators clearly upset over last week's election results.

NGUYEN: Many of the problems they want resolved are the same ones that we're dealing with right here in the United States. We're talking about a struggling economy, also rising unemployment. Our Ivan Watson reports that the winds have changed. They're being standby Iran's younger generation. And we see that in the images coming out of Iran, Ivan, and many of them right at the front of the demonstration.

WATSON: Absolutely Betty and one thing many of our viewers may not know is that 3/5 of Iran's population is under the age of 30. Whoever rules the country when all of this crisis is over is going to have to deal with this very important constituency. Let's take a look at this story.


WATSON (voice over): These are some of the children of Iran's Islamic revolution; some of the tens of millions of young Iranians are born after 1979. A youthful demographic boom that makes up more than half of the country's population.

ABBAS MILANI, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Every five person you see around you, imagine three of them are under the age of 30.

WATSON: When Ayatollah swept to power in 1979, he encouraged families to reproduce, and they did. The Iranian government then made education a priority, says Stanford University's Abbas Milani.

MILANI: They are all educated. One of the few good things this regime has done, it's really eliminated illiteracy.

WATSON: But the Iranian economy can't cope with the hundreds of thousands of young Iranians who entered the workforce every year.

Presidential candidates slashed over the economy. Before last week's controversial election. For years, this oil-rich country has struggled with high inflation and double digit unemployment. For many young Iranians, experts say, the economic future is bleak. The green wave of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi tapped into some of these frustrations.

SHAREEN HUNTER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It's very hard. Marriage is a big issue; they can't afford to get married. Housing is an issue.

WATSON: Housing and jobs. Basic demands for a generation of young Iranians that the country's leaders cannot afford to ignore.


WATSON: Betty, millions of unemployed young Iranians that would be a major problem for any government to deal with.


NGUYEN: All right. Ivan Watson, thank you so much for that, Ivan.

HOLMES: And our special election, fallout of the election in Iran continues coming up.


NGUYEN: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to our special coverage. Iran's foreign minister says election fraud is virtually nonexistent, yet thousands of protesters are disagreeing.

HOLMES: And I want to go ahead and bring in Badi Badiozamani. You saw that line there. You had to giggle a little when the Iranian officials coming out saying there's no election fraud. There are so many punches to this story. Where are we on that front at least? And the Guardian Council saying they're going to recount about 10 percent of the vote. Where has there been evidence that there was fraud? Besides people saying, there's no way it could be that big blowout?

BADIOZAMANI: The biggest evidence is so obvious, 40 million votes, paper ballots counted in less than eight hours. Even with divine intervention, it would be impossible.

HOLMES: We had a guy on our air last week arguing it was broken down in such a way that each person only had several hundred they were responsible for.

BADIOZAMANI: Even coordinating that, even putting them on phone with essential pace would be impossible. See not only that, there is footage because it has not been confirmed we can't show it. Two people are sitting down somewhere and just filling out ballots. Ballots are not supposed to be available to people before or even after the election. They have a stack of ballots and they are writing based on a list they have. It's mind boggling.

NGUYEN: So Badi given your experience and your knowledge of Iran and its history, we're hearing that the Guardian Council say, yeah, we'll recount up to 10 percent of the vote and then we also heard the supreme leader say this is a definitive victory, it's done, it's over with. What happens now?

BADIOZAMANI: Well, it's the way the clergy have always been treated the world. Talking on both sides of their mouths so to speak. Say something and leave a leeway for yourself. Of course, Ahmadinejad has won, and then, well, there may be a 10 percent -10 percent\ of what? 10 percent of 40 million is what 4 million?

NGUYEN: So it's just -

BADIOZAMANI: Or saying that, we are legit.

HOLMES: Badi, we're not done with you. Also a scholar, expert on Iran. He's going to be around with us all day yesterday, and will be around for most of the day. Even if you're not, I signed you up.

NGUYEN: He spent 18 hours here yesterday. The man needs a little rest. There's so much going on.

BADIOZAMANI: These are critical points in not only Iran's history, but I think it's going to affect the entire world.

NGUYEN: And the world is watching, and as you know we've been around- the-clock coverage of it.

Thank you, Badi. We do appreciate it.

BADIOZAMANI: My pleasure.

HOLMES: We do appreciate you.