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middle east - do not use

Eight killed and hundreds arrested in clashes at opposition protest

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-28

Iranian state TV said eight protesters were killed during the weekend’s protests, allegedly including the nephew of reformist leader Mirhossein Mousavi. Several aides to Mousavi and reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami have been arrested.

REUTERS - An opposition leader accused Iran's hardline rulers on Monday of killing innocent people during a religious festival that ignited into a day of anti-government protests, a reformist website reported.

Iran's state English-language Press TV, citing the Supreme National Security Council, said eight people were killed in Sunday's clashes between security forces and demonstrators.

Police had earlier reported five dead in violence in Tehran, the first such fatalities since the street protests that flared immediately after a disputed June 12 presidential election.

"What has happened to this religious system that it orders the killing of innocent people during the holy day of Ashura?" asked moderate cleric Mehdi Karoubi, who came fourth in the election, in a statement posted on the Jaras website.

Opposition websites said police fired on protesters in Tehran. Eight people were killed in the capital and other cities when tens of thousands of people took to the streets, they said.

The deaths and scale of confrontations may signal a volatile new phase in which security forces loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seek to crush the reformist movement.

"These are the hardest clashes we've seen since June," said a Western diplomat in Tehran, adding that bitterness over the deaths could spark new protests and a harsh state reaction.

He said Iran's leadership was under great pressure but showed no sign of losing its grip over the security apparatus.

Among the dead on Sunday was a nephew of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi. State television said unknown assailants had killed Ali Habibi Mousavi Khamene, whose death was described as martyrdom by an ally of Mousavi.

Police said the "suspicious deaths" were under investigation and that 300 protesters had been arrested. They said dozens of security men had been injured in the running street clashes.

State television said members of an exiled opposition group, the Mujahideen Khalq Organisation, were among those arrested.

It quoted a senior police official as saying the security forces had not used weapons, apparently meaning firearms.

OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ARRESTED

Jaras said opposition politician Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the banned Freedom Movement and foreign minister in Iran's first government after the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah, was detained early on Monday at his home.

Yazdi, who was also detained after the June election, is an important opposition voice, but has limited popular support.

Jaras said police shot dead four protesters in central Tehran on Sunday and that unrest had also erupted in the cities of Qom, Shiraz, Isfahan, Najafabad, Mashhad and Babol.

The reports could not be independently verified because foreign media are banned from directly covering protests.

Tabriz prosecutor Yahya Mirzamohammadi denied a Jaras report that four protesters had been killed in the northwestern city. He told the ISNA news agency no protests had occurred there.

The United States condemned Iran's "unjust suppression" of civilians.

A hardline clerical group in the holy city of Qom condemned the "sedition by rioters" during the Shi'ite Muslim religious ritual of Ashura, the official IRNA news agency said.

"The association of Qom theologians ... asks officials to identify those behind yesterday's events and take appropriate measures to firmly encounter and punish them according to legal and religious standards," it said in a statement.

Political turmoil has convulsed Iran since the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a vote his opponents said was fraudulent, a charge the authorities deny.

Demonstrations have persisted, increasingly on important days in the Islamic republic's religious and political calendar, as the opposition seeks to sustain its own momentum.

Heavy security measures eventually quelled the first wave of mass protests that plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The opposition says more than 70 people were killed in the early protests. Officials say the toll -- including members of a pro-government Islamic militia -- was less than half that.

The unrest, which has divided the political and clerical elite, has also complicated Iran's decision-making in the long-running dispute over its nuclear programme, which the West fears is a cover to build bombs. Tehran denies this.

Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based analyst, said the latest violence might turn out to be a "breaking point" for Iran's rulers.

"If so, it shows that the Iranian theocracy ultimately fell on its own sword. It didn't come to an end due to the efforts of exiled opposition groups or the regime change schemes of Washington's neo-conservatives," wrote Parsi, who is president of the National Iranian American Council.

"Rather, the Iranian people are the main characters in this drama, using the very same symbols that brought the Islamic Republic into being to close this chapter in a century-old struggle for democracy."

 

Date created : 2009-12-28

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