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Iran police clash with protesters across Tehran

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators take to the streets during a religious period. Heavier clashes are foreseen for Ashura, the day of mourning for Imam Hussein.

December 27, 2009|By Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim
  • Shiite Muslims strike themselves with chains as they parade through Tehran on Tasua, the day before Ashura, which occurs Sunday and marks a 7th century martyrdom.
Shiite Muslims strike themselves with chains as they parade through Tehran… (European Pressphoto Agency )

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut — The Iranian capital erupted in small sporadic clashes Saturday, beginning in the morning and ending after darkness fell, spreading from the south to the far north of the city, as the peak of a 10-day religious holiday approached.

The latest confrontations between security forces and largely peaceful demonstrators broke out on Tasua, the ninth day of the Islamic calendar month of Muharram and the day before Ashura, which is the annual commemoration of the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad and a revered figure in Iran's majority Shiite Muslim faith.

The country has been roiled by bouts of political unrest stemming from the disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranians anticipate heavier clashes today, on Ashura, which also coincides with the religiously significant seventh day of mourning following the death of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran's leading dissident cleric.

"Mourning, mourning!" demonstrators chanted, seen in an amateur video posted on the Internet, as passing drivers honked in support. "Today is a day of mourning!"

Plainclothes security officials stormed a famous north Tehran compound, home to the family of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and barred former President Mohammad Khatami from delivering an evening speech.

Afterward, clashes erupted between thousands of demonstrators and security forces in nearby Tajrish and Niavaran squares, according to reformist websites and witnesses. Shots were fired into the air, witnesses said.

"The blood that is in our veins is a gift to our people," the protesters chanted in a modification of a slogan that hard-liners use to express a willingness to sacrifice their lives for supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

As plainclothes security officials charged them, the protesters fled into the labyrinthine bazaar at Tajrish Square, the city's northern commercial center, occasionally reemerging to chant slogans.

State television did not immediately mention the clashes. Instead it aired live video of thousands of Iranians gathered for officially sanctioned Tasua commemorations in Iran and Shiite pilgrims beating themselves in ritual self-flagellation in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, site of Imam Hussein's golden-domed tomb.

Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported calm in central Tehran despite attempts by what it described as 150 people to disrupt public order. "This group of people who carried no religious symbols or banners had gathered around Imam Hussein Square but were ignored," the report said.

A number of people were injured or arrested throughout the day, news websites reported.

Shaky video posted by protesters on the Internet showed hundreds of marching demonstrators chanting slogans. As phalanxes of security personnel blocked sidewalks, passing cars honked in support of the protesters chanting "Death to the dictator!" along Enghelab Street, a busy east-west downtown avenue.

The reformist website Rahesabz, or Green Path, said the unrest began when police using batons and firing tear-gas canisters dispersed demonstrators approaching Imam Hussein Square. The protesters quickly moved to other parts of the capital in what has become a game of cat and mouse.

Video showed people in city buses shouting political slogans as they passed scenes of unrest.

According to reformist websites and a witness, police stormed the offices of the government-funded Iranian Students News Agency, pummeling demonstrators who reportedly had taken refuge inside.

Video showed demonstrators chanting "Ya Hussein, Mir-Hossein!", in honor of the martyr and in support of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, at a Tasua ceremony in the central Iranian city of Kashan.

There also were unconfirmed reports of clashes in other cities.

daragahi@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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