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Students, militia clash on Tehran university campus

Security forces continue to round up dissidents, and hard-liners struggle to show they have the upper hand.

December 30, 2009|By Borzou Daragahi

Reporting from Beirut — Students clashed with pro-government Basiji militiamen on the campus of a Tehran university Tuesday and security forces continued to round up dissidents as Iran reeled from the aftershocks of last weekend's deadly protests.

Iran's hard-liners, who dominate the government, official media and security forces, struggled to show that they had the upper hand after the Ashura protests that shook the nation and left at least seven people dead.

Iranian authorities have arrested more than 1,000 protesters, dissidents, activists and journalists in the last two days and broadcast nonstop calls for government supporters to head to the streets today to rally against those who "desecrated" the holy day of Ashura.

Meanwhile, a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei labeled the leaders of the protest movement mohareb, or "enemies of God," who deserve the death penalty.

"In our system of justice the penalty for mohareb is clear," Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, an aging cleric who controls a vast religious charity in eastern Iran, said in comments broadcast on television.

In Iran's parliament, where hard-liners dominate and whose members are vetted by the ultraconservative Guardian Council, lawmakers marched around the legislative chamber, fists in air, denouncing the Ashura protests as another in a string of conspiracies hatched by Western governments and international media.

"The Iranian nation has seen many such plays," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose disputed reelection six months ago triggered Iran's worst domestic political crisis in decades, said at a separate appearance. "A play, the scenario of which has been written and financed by the Zionists and Americans with all its tickets already booked."

The Revolutionary Guard issued a statement accusing international media of conspiring against the Islamic Republic.

"Their extensive propaganda and psychological operations were aimed at overthrowing the system," it said, warning that opposition leaders "must sooner or later pay a heavy price for their audacity and affront to [the] Iranian nation's sanctities."

Iran's green-themed opposition movement has grown significantly since the June elections. With access to satellite television and the Internet increasing nationwide, many ordinary Iranians doubt the government's line.

But Iranian authorities continue to maintain the official position that the protests are a foreign-backed conspiracy in order to keep their shock troops motivated and lay the groundwork for a deeper crackdown, said Mohsen Sazegara, a Washington-based Iranian journalist and a co-founder of the Revolutionary Guard.

"They're trying to convince their own supporters, not the people," he said in a telephone interview. "They have problems maintaining the loyalty of their own supporters. They're also doing this to justify a further suppression of the people. They want to launch a new attack."

Among those arrested were the relatives of prominent Iranian dissidents, including the sister of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who is currently abroad, and the brother-in-law of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, whose 43-year-old nephew was shot to death under mysterious circumstances Sunday near the protests.

Tehran's chief prosecutor confirmed seven people killed in the capital Sunday, one of them shot to death. But opposition activists say as many as 38 were killed nationwide.

Amateur videotape surfaced Tuesday showing police pickups driving into crowds at the protests Sunday, running over at least one individual.

Reformist websites said Basiji militiamen stormed the offices and mosques of reformist clerics throughout the country.

Despite the crackdown, a rowdy protest broke out on a campus of Tehran's Azad University, with video footage showing students clashing with pro-government militiamen. A reformist website said the clash lasted for several hours both inside and outside the buildings.

Opposition activists say they may call for another protest Thursday and have begun asking students to boycott classes next week as an act of civil disobedience. The country's main moderate political party urged authorities to exercise restraint and heed public demands.

"If there were a wise and logical government in place, it would have heard people's objection after this time, and would have asked the nation's wise men to find a solution for the crisis," said the statement by the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

"Before it gets too late, the compassionate officials of the state should find a solution to the problem . . . and reconcile with protesters."

daragahi@latimes.com

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