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Iran reform leader says pressure to drop challenge

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By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writer Karin Laub, Associated Press Writer

Iran's key opposition leader said Thursday for the first time that he is being isolated by authorities and pressured to drop his presidential election challenge, while the declared winner of the vote, hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sharply criticized President Barack Obama.

In another sign of the widening post-election crackdown, 70 university professors were arrested late Wednesday, after a meeting with Mousavi, who has alleged massive fraud in the June 12 vote. The detention of the professors signaled that the authorities are increasingly targeting Iran's elite.

A defiant Ahmadinejad dismissed growing Western criticism of the clampdown, singling out Obama.

"Why has Mr. Obama, who advocates change, been trapped and follows the same path as Bush," state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as saying, in a reference to Obama's predecessor.

Before the election, the Obama administration had indicated that it was interested in reaching out to Iran, after years of a diplomatic freeze following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran has given no clear signal that it is interested in Obama's overture, and in the wake of the election, the U.S. leader has slowly ratcheted up his criticism of Iran.

However, there was also indications that the disputed election has caused a rift among former Ahmadinejad supporters. Several Tehran newspapers reported Thursday that only 105 out of 290 members of parliament attended a victory celebration held by Ahmadinejad on Tuesday. Among the no-shows was Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani.

In recent days, demonstrators challenging the election results have found themselves increasingly struggling under a blanket crackdown by government authorities.

In a statement on his official Web site, Kalemeh, Mousavi for the first time discussed what he described as his growing difficulties. He complained of "recent pressures" on him to withdraw his election challenge and said that his access to people has been "completely restricted."

Mousavi also said that because of his growing isolation, verbal attacks on him have increased, including claims that he was associating with foreigners, a particularly touchy issue in Iran where the government has been alleging foreign interference with the election.

The opposition leader suggested he would stand strong. "I cannot modify black as white and white as black," he was quoted as saying. "This is not the solution to expect me to express something in which I don't believe."

On Wednesday, Mousavi met with 70 university professors, said the Web site, Kalemeh. The professors, among a group pushing for a more liberal form of government, were detained after the meeting, the site said. It was not clear where they were taken, the report said.

Meanwhile, another opposition leader, Mahdi Karroubi, has put off a march of mourning for at least 17 people killed in post-election protests. The march had initially been set for Thursday, but has been postponed for at least a week, according to a Web site linked to Karroubi, a reformist presidential candidate.

The site said organizers had not been given permission to hold the gathering.

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Laub reported from Cairo.

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Iranian authorities have barred journalists for international news organizations from reporting on the streets and ordered them to stay in their offices. This report is based on the accounts of witnesses reached in Iran and official statements carried on Iranian media.

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