President Barack Obama slammed the Iranian government on Tuesday for its crackdown on opposition protesters, drawing a sharp contrast with the Egyptian military's more restrained handling of Egypt's upheaval.
"The world is changing," Obama said in a message directed at autocratic rulers across the region. "You have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity. ... You've got to get out ahead of change; you can't be behind the curve."
"I find it ironic that you've got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully," the US president said at a White House news conference.
Obama said Egypt's new military rulers, who took over last week after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down amid mass protests, were sending the "right signals" about moving toward democracy after three decades of autocratic rule.
But he had tough words for Iran's government after it broke up an opposition rally on Monday inspired by the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and expressed Washington's solidarity with the Iranian protesters.
"My hope and expectation is that we are going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedom and a more representative government," Obama said.
But Obama, who has led international efforts to impose sanctions on Tehran because of its nuclear program, insisted the United States "cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran."
Iranian lawmakers on Tuesday called for the death penalty for opposition leaders they accused of fomenting unrest after a Monday rally in which security forces clashed with protesters. At least one person was killed and dozens were wounded, state media said.
The Iranian demonstration revived mass protests that shook the country after a presidential vote in 2009. Obama had been widely criticized for not doing enough to show US support for the Iranian opposition.
Reuters, AP contributed to the report
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