New clashes erupt in Tehran as police disperse protesters

McClatchy NewspapersJune 24, 2009 

TEHRAN, Iran — Security forces swinging batons and firing tear gas clashed Wednesday with demonstrators who ignored a new demand by Iran's supreme leader to end nearly two weeks of protests and accept the disputed results of the country's June 12 presidential election.

Witnesses reported that some 1,000 demonstrators tried to gather at Baharestan Square, near the Iranian parliament building, although they were outnumbered by riot police and members of the Basij, the militia that's at been the forefront of the regime's efforts to crush the opposition.

Iranians who witnessed the violence wrote in Farsi-language Internet postings and blogs that many protesters were injured by police and Basij members who lashed out with clubs, pipes and electric cables and fired teargas and live ammunition into the air.

State-run media accounts denied that there was any violence. Press TV, the English-language arm of Iran's state-run television, said that security forces dispersed about 200 demonstrators outside a subway station at Baharestan Square, while some 50 other protesters were prevented from gathering in a nearby area.

"A heavy presence of the police prevented violence in the area," Press TV reported on its Web site. "Traffic was light, and the police controlled all the routes to and from the areas surrounding the parliament."

Witnesses said that many protesters wore black to show respect for demonstrators killed in earlier rallies. Security forces moved to disperse the crowd, they said, after a group of young girls started shouting "Allahu Akbar" — God is great — which has become an opposition rallying cry.

Basij members arrested anyone who tried to photograph or video the unrest, they said, as helicopters hovered overhead.

Mass protests erupted across Iran on June 13 after second-place candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi accused the regime of rigging the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They've diminished significantly so far this week.

Earlier Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields absolute power under the Iranian Constitution, repeated a demand that the protests end and the country of 66 million accept Ahmadinejad's victory as certified by the 12-member Guardian Council, a panel of senior clerics.

"On the current situation regarding the presidential election, I insist on the implementation of the law," state-run media quoted Khamenei telling a meeting of high-level parliamentarians. "That means we will not take a single step beyond the law."

"For sure, neither the system nor the people will give in to pressure at any price," he continued.

The Guardian Council announced Wednesday that a review of the polling had found no major irregularities, Press TV reported. The council said that a decision to extend the filing period for complaints until Monday was a "confidence-building move."

Ahmadinejad's swearing-in was set for as early as July 26.

Iranian authorities have prohibited foreign and local independent journalists from covering Iran's worst political upheaval since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, compelling them to rely on accounts relayed by telephone or posted on Internet sites, and on official media reports.

The size of the protests has diminished considerably since major street battles last weekend as the regime has deployed huge numbers of security forces and launched a massive crackdown that reportedly has included the arrests of hundreds of Mousavi aides and other politicians, students, journalists, intellectuals and activists.

Press TV reported that Tehran police late Monday raided a building used by Mousavi's campaign that they'd identified as "a headquarters for psychological war against the country's security."

"It was discovered that the organization of illegal gatherings, the promotion of unrest and efforts to undermine the country's security were carried out from this building."

The fourth-placed runner up, reformist politician Mehdi Karroubi, has also demanded the annulment of the election results, but an announcement on his Web site said he'd decided to cancel a rally he'd called for Thursday to mourn dead protesters because he was refused a permit.

The third-place finisher, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei, decided to withdraw his complaint of fraud, state-run media reported.

The government, however, has been unable to prevent Iranians from circumventing censors and posting reports, pictures and videos to Twitter and Facebook, or sending e-mails and text messages.

The regime also has tried to discredit the opposition by charging that the violence was fomented by United States, Britain, other European powers and Israel.

In Washington, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had rescinded invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at U.S. embassies around the world because of the Iranian regime's "unjust" violent against protesters.

"Unfortunately, circumstances have changed, and participation by Iranian diplomats would not be appropriate in light of the unjust actions that the president and I have condemned," she said in an e-mail to U.S. embassies.

(This story is based on reporting by a McClatchy special correspondent in Tehran whose name is being withheld for security reasons. It was written by Jonathan S. Landay in Washington.)

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