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Despite ban, opposition still gathering in mass protests

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-06-18

Supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi protested for a fifth day in Tehran. At least 500 protesters, opposition figures, journalists and students have been detained in recent days in an attempt to quell the unrest.

Tens of thousands of supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi defied a ban to gather in downtown Tehran on Wednesday for a fifth day of protests against last week’s disputed election, which handed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term.

Dressed mainly in black and wearing wrist- or headbands of green, Mousavi’s campaign colour, they assembled in Haft-e Tir square and the streets around it, witnesses said. Most of the protesters were silent and making victory signs in accordance with the opposition's call for a rally "in silence without slogans".

Mousavi called on his supporters to gather again on Thursday for "a peaceful rally to protest the unhealthy trend of the election and realise our goal of annulling the results".

He is demanding not only a recount, but "a new presidential election that will not repeat the shameful fraud" of the June 12 vote results.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the nation's powerful Guardian Council have agreed to a recount but rejected holding another vote.

On Tuesday the government barred foreign media from reporting on the street demonstrations, confining them in effect to their offices and hotels.

As a result of the restrictions, protesters have been filling in the information gaps with entries on blogs and websites such as Twitter.

Despite the continuing crackdown, says Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the UK paper the Independent, there are signs the attitude of the police might be easing. Reporting from Tehran, where he is defying the ban on media coverage, Fisk said at a protest Tuesday in Vanak Square, police for the first time moved to protect the demonstrators from Iran's Basiji militia, forces loyal to Ahmadinejad who have been behind many of the attacks on demonstrators.

This shift in police attitude has a precedent in Iran that is “known to everyone”, Fisk writes, "when the Shah's army refused to fire on the millions of demonstrators demanding his overthrow in 1979."

At least 500 protesters, opposition figures, journalists and students have been detained in recent days in an attempt to quell the unrest.

Mohammad Atrianfar, a top reformist and confidant of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was arrested on Tuesday, reformist campaigner Issa Saharkhiz told AFP.

"This was the second time Mr Atrianfar was arrested this week. He was out for only 12 hours before being arrested again," Saharkhiz said.

A Mousavi campaigner, sociologist Hamid Reza Jalaipour, was arrested at his home on Wednesday but released hours later, he told AFP.

Saeed Laylaz, a political and economic analyst, was also arrested on Wednesday in Tehran, a family member said.

Laylaz and Jalaipour are also prominent journalists.

Jalaipour said he was released but his son Mohommad Reza, a leading member of Mousavi's campaign, was arrested at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport while on his way to London.

"My son studies at Oxford University and he was leaving for London with his wife," said Jalaipour. "He was arrested by men in plain clothes at the airport."

A reformist former interior ministry spokesman, Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, and three journalists working for the reformist press have also been arrested, Etemad Melli newspaper reported on Wednesday.


Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie said on Tuesday that security forces had arrested 26 "masterminds" of the post-election unrest sweeping Tehran.

Date created : 2009-06-17