Iran's supreme leader ordered Monday an investigation into allegations of election fraud, marking a stunning turnaround by the country's most powerful figure and offering hope to opposition forces who have waged street clashes to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
State television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directing a high-level clerical panel, the Guardian Council, to look into charges by pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has said he is the rightful winner of Friday's presidential election.
The decision comes after Mousavi wrote a letter appealing to the Guardian Council and met Sunday with Khamenei, who holds almost limitless power over Iranian affairs. Such an election probe by the 12-member council is uncharted territory and it not immediately clear how it would proceed or how long it would take.
Election results must be authorized by the council, composed of clerics closely allied with the unelected supreme leader. All three of Ahmadinejad's challengers in the election -- Mousavi and two others -- have made public allegations of fraud after results showed the president winning by a 2-to-1 margin.
"Issues must be pursued through a legal channel," state TV quoted Khamenei as saying. The supreme leader said he has "insisted that the Guardian Council carefully probe this letter."
The day after the election, Khamenei urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a "divine assessment."