Iran General NewsIran Government stages rallies as Mousavi’s nephew is quietly...

Iran Government stages rallies as Mousavi’s nephew is quietly buried

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ImageThe Times: Iran’s beleaguered regime sought to bolster its support with stage-managed rallies in several cities yesterday and said last night that the leaders of the opposition had fled Tehran because they were scared of the people’s anger. The claim was swiftly denied. The Times

Martin Fletcher

ImageIran’s beleaguered regime sought to bolster its support with stage-managed rallies in several cities yesterday and said last night that the leaders of the opposition had fled Tehran because they were scared of the people’s anger. The claim was swiftly denied.

Another day of high drama began with the authorities returning Seyed Ali Mousavi’s body to his family on condition that the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader, was buried quickly and quietly. The family complied.

The regime demanded a low-key funeral for the most prominent casualty of last Sunday’s massive anti-government demonstrations out of fear that the event could be transformed into another opposition protest — on the day that it had chosen to stage large rallies of its own.

State television showed tens of thousands of Iranians marching through Tehran, Shiraz, Qom and other cities. The similarities with the opposition’s demonstrations ended there.

These rallies were deemed legal. They were not attacked by riot police using bullets, batons and tear gas and there were no mass arrests.

The state-controlled media, which largely ignores opposition demonstrations, gave yesterday’s rallies extensive coverage. Opposition websites reported that the Government gave state employees the day off, bussed supporters and schoolchildren into the cities and waived subway fares. It even handed out free food.

The marchers chanted “Death to Mousavi” and “Mousavi is a murderer” and demanded that the leaders of the Green Movement should be executed for conspiring with Iran’s enemies.

They pledged undying allegiance to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. They burned the flags of Britain and America, whom the regime blames for the worst unrest in the Islamic Republic’s 30-year history, and gathered in front of the British Embassy calling for it to be closed down.

Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hardline cleric, told the Tehran rally that the opposition leaders — “chiefs of sedition” — should repent or be charged as mohareb, enemies of God, for which the Sharia punishment is death.

A government statement described the opposition as “lackeys of global oppression” who were conspiring with Iran’s Western enemies.

General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, Iran’s police chief, warned opposition demonstrators that the “era of tolerance is over” and that in future they would be shown no mercy. After the rallies, the state news agency IRNA reported that Mr Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, the opposition’s other de facto leader, had left Tehran. “Two of the chiefs of the sedition left Tehran for the north of Iran after learning that the population was increasingly angry and demanding their punishment,” it said.

Opposition sources denied the report. “Some are trying to create a climate of fear and terror . . . by spreading information about the arrest or exile [of my father] to put pressure on him,” Mr Karoubi’s son, Hossein, said. “My father and Mr Mousavi are still in Tehran and IRNA’s report is baseless.”

Mr Mousavi’s nephew, Ali, 42, was one of at least eight protesters killed on the streets of Tehran last Sunday. Opposition activists suspect that he was targeted by the regime to send his uncle an unmistakable message. Their suspicions were reinforced when the authorities swiftly removed his body for “forensic investigations”.

As the younger Mr Mousavi was buried amid tight security in the huge Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran, the police declared that he had been assassinated: shot from a passing vehicle away from the demonstrations. They described his death as suspicious, implying that he may have been shot to embarrass the regime.

General Moghaddam also denied that police vehicles had deliberately run protesters over last Sunday, despite mobile phone footage that appeared online showing a police truck doing exactly that. “Don’t ask lies,” he replied when asked about the clip. “There are no pictures showing police cars running over people.” He said that the police arrested 500 “rioters” on Sunday, of which 300 were still in detention, but added that more were detained by other security agencies.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, added to the international condemnation of what she called “excessive acts of violence” by Iranian security forces. “I am shocked by the upsurge in deaths, injuries and arrests,” she said. “People have a right to express their feelings and to hold peaceful protests without being beaten, clubbed and thrown into jail.

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