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Opposition Leaders Call Iran Gov't Illegitimate

Iran's former president has joined ranks with the country's embattled reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, and accused the Iranian government of failing its people in the recent election and condemning the subsequent crackdown on protesters.

In a bold, lengthy statement Wednesday on his Web site, Mousavi said he considered Iran's cleric-led government illegitimate and demanded political prisoners be released, while saying Iran's government needs to institute electoral reforms and ensure press freedoms.

Former President Mohammad Khatami, meanwhile, lashed out at what he termed "a poisonous security situation" in the wake of violent street protests.

Khatami accused Iran's leadership of a "velvet coup against the people and democracy," and Mousavi said the government's crackdown on demonstrators was "tantamount to a coup."

Click to view photos of unrest in Iran. (WARNING: Some graphic images)

Mousavi contends the June 12 election was marred by widespread fraud and insists he was robbed of victory. Khatami scorned the government for declaring incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner in a landslide.

Iran's ruling clerics have called the elections "pure" and "healthy" following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's declaration that the results would stand.

Meanwhile, the official tally of deaths among Iranian protesters during the street demonstrations following the vote was upped from 17 to 20 on Thursday, according to Iran's state-owned daily, quoting Iran's police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam.

Police detained 1,032 people, and most have been released, said Ahmadi Moghaddam, adding that 500 police forces were injured in the clashes. The report did not specify whether the numbers included those detained by Basij, known Khamenei's street enforcers. Eight Basijis have also been reported killed in the street clashes.

The Basij formally requested that Mousavi be investigated for the post-election protests Wednesday, saying he "supervised or assisted in punishable acts."

Iran's government also faces pressure from the West, with the European Union set to debate a British request to pull all 27 EU ambassadors in retaliation for recent detentions of several British Embassy local employees. Iranian state television reported all but one of those detained has been released.

In response -- and a sign of further deteriorating ties -- Iran's chief of staff Gen. Hasan Firouzabadi told semiofficial Fars news agency that the EU "has totally lost the competence and qualifications needed for holding any kind of talks with Iran."

Both Britain and the EU had condemned the detentions of British embassy staffers as "harassment and intimidation" and it was not clear how Tehran's release would affect discussions over withdrawing envoys.

Also Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for next week's Group of Eight summit to send a "strong message of unity" in support of Iranians' human rights, adding that efforts to address concerns over Tehran's nuclear ambitions must remain on track.

Merkel has called for Iran to recount the votes in its disputed presidential election, and repeatedly has spoken out for Iranians' right to demonstrate. G-8 leaders meet in Italy next week, after their foreign ministers last week deplored Iran's postelection violence.

EDITOR'S NOTE: 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.