President Barack Obama on Friday praised the bravery of Iranians who protested against a disputed election in the face of outrageous violence, while a hardline Iranian cleric called for the execution of leading rioters.

(EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.)

Iran's legislative body, the Guardian Council, said it found no major violations in the June 12 presidential poll, which it described as the healthiest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but said 10 percent of ballot boxes would be recounted.

The council has rejected a call for the annulment of the vote by reformist former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi, who has led mass protests since he was declared a distant second in the election behind incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I want the judiciary to ... punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson, Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran University.

Iranian state television said that eight Basij militiamen were killed by rioters during the protests in the world's fifth largest oil exporter. State media previously said 20 people were killed in the marches.

The rights of the Iranian people to assemble, to speak freely, to have their voices heard, those are universal aspirations, Obama said at a White House news conference.

Their bravery in the face of brutality is a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice. The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous.

Iranian authorities have accused Mousavi of responsibility for the bloodshed, while he says the government is to blame.


Khatami, a member of the powerful Assembly of Experts, said the judiciary should charge the leading rioters as mohareb or one who wages war against God.

They should be punished ruthlessly and savagely, he said. Under Iran's Islamic law, punishment for people convicted as mohareb is execution.

Abbasali Kadkhodai, spokesman for the Guardian Council, said that to remove all ambiguities over the vote, 10 percent of all ballot boxes would be recounted in the presence of senior officials representing government and opposition.

Political and religious figures should send election-related questions to the council and the defeated candidates had 24 hours to present their representatives for the recount, he told the students' news agency ISNA.

Mousavi supporters planned to release thousands of balloons on Friday with the message: Neda you will always remain in our hearts, in memory of Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman killed last week who has become an icon of the demonstrations. There was no sign of the balloons by late Friday afternoon.

Khatami said Neda was shot by government opponents for propaganda purposes. By watching the film, any wise person can understand that rioters killed her, he said.

Iranian authorities have used a combination of warnings, arrests and the threat of police action to drive large demonstrations off Tehran's street since Saturday with small gatherings dispersed with tear gas and baton charges.

The Group of Eight foreign ministers, meeting in Italy, said they deplored post-election violence. The crisis should be settled soon through democratic dialogue and peaceful means on the basis of the rule of law, said a G8 statement.

We sincerely hope that Iran will seize this opportunity to give diplomacy a chance to find a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue, the statement said, referring to Western concerns that Tehran aims to produce an atomic bomb which it denies saying its program is for energy.

The 12-man Guardian Council's statement leaves little scope for more legal challenges to the election result, short of an attack on the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed strong support for Ahmadinejad.

The Guardian Council has almost finished reviewing defeated candidates' election complaints ... the reviews showed that the election was the healthiest since the revolution ... There were no major violations in the election, said Kadkhodai.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a Mousavi ally, chairs the Assembly of Experts which has the constitutional power to depose Khamenei. The assembly has never tried to do so and Rafsanjani is seen as unlikely to take such a radical step.

Mousavi said he was determined to keep challenging the election results despite pressure to stop. He called on his supporters to continue legal protests and said restrictions on the opposition could lead to more violence.