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Asia-pacific

Pro-Mousavi supporters interrupt Friday prayers sermon

©

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-07-17

Opposition supporters briefly interrupted Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's sermon during the Friday prayers at Tehran university by chanting pro-Mousavi slogans, according to Iran radio sources quoted by Reuters. Mousavi himself attended the prayers.

Mirhossein Mousavi supporters briefly interrupted the Friday prayer service at Tehran University by chanting pro-Mousavi slogans. The opposition leader was in attendance, it being his first public appearance since the controversial election on June 12.

 

The prayers were broadcast live on state radio, according to sources at Iran radio quoted by Reuters.

 

Iranian police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse supporters of the defeated presidential candidate who had gathered outside the University, a witness said.

 

The former President Hashemi Rafsanjani is a rival of re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and led the weekly prayers on Friday which was attended by tens of thousands of pro-reform supporters at Tehran University. 

 

Rafsanjani urged people “not to contaminate the position and the sanctuary of Friday prayers by (inappropriate) comments and slogans.”

 

Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, the runner-up in the recent election, planned to attend the prayers as his first official public appearance since the June 12 vote that provoked mass protests by his pro-reform supporters.

 

Pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi, who came fourth in an election he and Mousavi say was rigged in the hardline incumbent’s favour, also planned to be at the prayers.

 

A senior cleric earlier called for calm during the prayers, state radio said, in a sign of the clerical establishment’s concern about possible unrest. Iran’s ILNA news agency said mobile phones did not work in central Tehran.

 

Tens of thousands of pro-reform supporters gathered near the university in downtown Tehran before Rafsanjani’s sermon, witnesses said, adding the crowd was unusually big for Friday prayers. Worshippers can listen to the sermon through loudspeakers set up outside the university grounds.

 

Large police presence

 

There was a large police presence near the university a few hours before the prayers started, a witness said. Scores of policemen were standing at or near the central Enqelab square, the witness said.

 

Many Basij militia members with batons were also seen near the university.

 

June’s election stirred the most striking display of internal dissent in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution and exposed deepening divisions in its establishment.

 

At least 20 people died in post-election violence. Mousavi and the authorities blame each other for the bloodshed. The security forces have managed to largely quell last month’s street demonstrations, but Mousavi has remained defiant.

 

“I’ve never been to Friday prayers but me and my friends will go to this one,” one female Mousavi supporter said.

 

Reflecting concern the event may turn into a show of strength by Ahmadinejad’s pro-reform opponents, Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said on Thursday:

 

“The vigilant Iranian nation must be aware that tomorrow’s sermon should not turn into an arena for undesirable scenes.”

 

The sermon at Tehran University is broadcast live by state radio and can reach a huge audience.

 

Rafsanjani, an influential cleric who was president in the 1990s, will lead the prayers after a two-month absence. Some of his relatives, including his daughter Faezeh, were arrested briefly for taking part in pro-Mousavi rallies.

 

Ahmadinejad on Thursday issued veiled criticism of Rafsanjani, a Mousavi supporter whom the president enraged during the election campaign by accusing him of corruption.

 

The authorities reject vote rigging charges. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has endorsed Ahmadinejad’s victory, but Mousavi says the next government will be illegitimate.

 

The election also strained ties between Iran and the West, already at odds over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Western powers criticised the protest crackdown and Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, accused them of meddling.

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Date created : 2009-07-17

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