TEHERAN: Tens of thousands of Iranians chanted support for defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi in Teheran Monday, protesting against the result of the election won by incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great), they converged on Revolution Square, where Mousavi was expected to call for calm after two days of the capital's most violent unrest in years.
"Mousavi, take back our votes," the marchers chanted as they waited for an appearance by Mousavi and other pro-reform leaders who back his call for Friday's election result to be overturned.
The Teheran gathering, which took place in defiance of an Interior Ministry ban, was a reply to Ahmadinejad's victory rally that also drew vast crowds on Sunday.
Hua Liming, a former Chinese ambassador to Iran, said it is almost impossible for the election verdict to be overturned, and that Ahmadinejad would most likely continue to be the president.
Even though the Guardian Council had accepted a request by Mousavi and another candidate to review the results, Hua said it is a fact that "the power lies with the other side (Ahmadinejad)".
The disputed election has dismayed Western powers trying to induce the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter to curb nuclear work they suspect is for bomb-making, a charge Iran denies.
The European Union increased pressure on Iran to agree to opposition demands to investigate Ahmadinejad's landslide election victory and halt a crackdown on protesters.
France, Germany and Britain led the EU campaign to persuade Iran to clarify the election results despite no sign of new pressure from the United States, their partner at talks intended to ensure Teheran does not develop nuclear weapons.
US leaders have reacted cautiously, in the hope of keeping alive President Barack Obama's strategy of engagement with Iran.
Chinese experts said the US' "low-key" response is in line with Obama's effort to rebuild Washington's relations with the Middle East.
"Iran is related to US' long-term anti-terror strategy in the Middle East and Afghan region," Yuan Peng, professor of American Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said.
Improving ties with Teheran is a "pre-condition" for the success of Washington's strategy in the region, Yuan added.
"The US must engage the winner in the election to improve bilateral ties," he said.
"It would backfire if Washington chose to support Mousavi," Yuan said.
In Washington, US pollsters said a survey they had taken three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a 2-to-1 ratio, greater than the declared election results.
The poll showed his victory might reflect the will of the people and not widespread fraud, pollsters Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty said in a column in the Washington Post.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has upheld the election result, met Mousavi on Sunday and told him to pursue his complaints "calmly and legally", state television said.
Iran's reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami, assailed the authorities for denying permission for the pro-Mousavi rally and said the election had dented public trust.
The 12-man Guardian Council, whose chairman, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, endorsed Ahmadinejad before the vote, said it would rule within 10 days on two official complaints it had received from Mousavi and another losing candidate, Mohsen Rezaie.
The council vets election candidates and must formally approve results for the outcome to stand.
Outside the British embassy, Ahmadinejad supporters chanted slogans against the "plots of Iran's Western enemies".
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak again said his country reserved all options on Iran - code for a possible attack on nuclear sites - which Teheran says are only for peaceful purposes.