Los Angeles Times: Protesters honoring the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran's leading dissident cleric, are met by police in riot gear The Los Angeles Times
Protesters honoring the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran's leading dissident cleric, are met by police in riot gear
By Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim
Reporting from Tehran and Beirut – Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Tehran on Thursday and clashed with security forces in the latest round of unrest over Iran's disputed June presidential election, according to witnesses and amateur video posted on the Internet.
The latest unrest in the nation's capital comes as Iran steels itself for a potential outbreak of violence around the country this weekend during Ashura, the annual commemoration of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad and a revered figure in Iran's Shiite Muslim faith.
The death Saturday of Iran's leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, has added to the emotionally charged political atmosphere. Iranian authorities have banned all mourning commemorations for the cleric; the religiously significant seventh day of mourning following his death coincides with Ashura, when men pour into the streets.
Protesters Thursday gathered at Imam Khomeini Square in central Tehran as police in full riot gear circled. Demonstrators chanting "Death to the dictator" played cat and mouse with police officers into the early evening. Fleeing protesters took refuge in the stairways of the nearby subway station as passing motorists leaned on their horns in gestures of support.
"Montazeri's legacy is the end of this dictatorship," they chanted.
There were also clashes between security forces and mourners attempting to honor Montazeri in Zanjan, a mostly ethnic Azeri city of 375,000 in western Iran, several opposition websites reported.
Amateur video posted on the Internet showed dozens of Montazeri supporters in Zanjan chanting "Death to the dictator" and "God is great," while holding up pictures of the cleric and running through the streets as they were chased by militiamen on motorcycles.
It was the first evidence of unrest in the city and the latest evidence that the political movement that sprang up after the June election has gained a foothold far beyond the capital.
Iranian authorities have called the opposition movement a tool of foreign powers trying to weaken the Islamic Republic. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his deputies have repeatedly called on protesters to put the election in the past, to little avail.
On Thursday, supporters of opposition figures Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who ran and lost against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the election, released a 370-page report detailing alleged voting fraud. Iranian authorities have said Ahmadinejad's opponents failed to prove any significant cheating.
In an interview with ABC News this week, Ahmadinejad described Iran as a paragon of civil liberties.
"We have freedom in Iran," he said. "We have more freedom than in America. People are free to speak and to demonstrate. Some people are opposed to the government. That is natural. There is no problem with it. They express their views."
Mostaghim is a special correspondent.