TEHRAN Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday as the victor of the disputed presidential election and demanded a halt to street protests. He said if demonstrations did not halt, their organisers would take responsibility for any bloodshed.
Here is a brief outline of what might happen next and whether defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi will heed Khamenei's appeal in his first address to the nation since the protests broke out on June 13.
WILL STREET PROTESTS END?
Mousavi's supporters have taken to the streets in tens of thousands to protest official results of the vote, in Iran's most serious unrest since the overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah in 1979.
Khamenei's demand for a halt to street protests will put huge pressure on Mousavi to press for an end to massive street protests.
Mousavi, prime minister during Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88, is unlikely to go against the interests of the Islamic republic following the leader's speech, and will therefore likely follow Khamenei's demand. He will probably continue his activities through judicial channels.
Mousavi may urge his supporters to stay away from a planned rally on Saturday to prevent the bloodshed Khamenei warned of.
Authorities may opt for a violent crackdown if pro-reform Iranians defy the leader's demand and continue their protests. If Mousavi supporters proceed on saturday in defiance of Khamenei's explicit warning they risk a severe response from security forces, which have so far not tried to prevent mass demonstrations.
END OF REFORMS IN IRAN?
If Mousavi decides to abandon his election demands, then a large group of pro-reform Iranians will become disillusioned. It will mark the end of Mousavi's political career as well as that of many other leading reformist figures who backed him.
This will open the way to conservatives winning the next elections to the national parliament and city councils.
Iran's top legislative body, the Guardian Council, is considering complaints by the three losing candidates, but has said only that it will recount some disputed ballot boxes. Mousavi rejects the limited recount, demanding a new election.
DIRECTION OF FOREIGN POLICY
Iran's ultimate authority, Khamenei acknowledged for the first time since Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, that his views on foreign policy were closer to those of the hardline president than to those of his moderate critics.
Khamenei has the last say on Iran's major policies, including Iran's disputed nuclear programme and whether Iran should resume ties with the United States.
Khamenei's remarks showed that Western hopes for a more conciliatory approach by Iran's leadership was unlikely in the next four years.
Mousavi has criticised Ahmadinejad for isolating Iran by denying the Holocaust and making fiery anti-Western speeches.
Many European countries and rights groups have criticised Iran's human rights record. Tehran denies violations, blaming the West for not respecting people's rights.
Analysts believe Khamenei's uncompromising remarks may lead to arrest of many political activists in the coming days.