BY Brian Kates
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Iran's top election authority on Tuesday ruled out major voting fraud in the disputed presidential election and said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be sworn in for a second term between July 26 and August 19.
The announcement comes in the midst of bloody riots that sparked mass arrests and claimed the lives of at least 19 people since the June 12 election.
The cleric-controlled Guardian Council declared Ahmadinejad the winner with 62.63% of the vote in the June 12 election. His closest rival, Mir Hossein Moussavi, received 33.75%, according to the official tally.
"Fortunately, in the recent presidential election we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election. Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place," council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said.
The Guardian Council's announcement came a day after the Revolutionary Guards, controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed to "put an end to the chaos" of street protests.
Police used tear gas and fired shots into the air Monday to break up a rally of hundreds of protesters in central Tehran's Haft-e-Tir square.
Officials said a special court is reviewing the cases of those arrested.
"The files of these protesters should be reviewed carefully and the rioters should receive penalties so as to give lessons to others," the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Asked whether protesters had achieved anything, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told NBC News: "I think the world is watching....I absolutely think we've seen the beginnings of change in Iran."
But, he stopped short of saying the U.S. would support a general strike, which analysts say is gaining support among anti-Ahmadinejad elements in the government and middle-class business community.
"We're not going to get involved in endorsing or not endorsing specific actions inside of Iran," Gibbs said. "This is for Iranians to debate. I think the president wants to ensure that he doesn't become a political football that the regime uses against anybody that seeks justice in Iran."
As the crackdown intensified, Iranian authorities arrested a Greek journalist working for the Washington Times, the state-run Fars news agency reported Tuesday.
The agency did not identify the journalist or report the grounds for arrest.
"All foreign reporters visiting Iran should act within our legal framework and work professionally," Fars quoted Mohsen Moghadaszadeh, head of the Foreign Media Office, as saying. "If they act against national security and spy they will be arrested by security organs and transferred to judiciary authorities."