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Iran government supporters rally in Tehran

Demonstrators call for the death of opponents of the hard-line government and decry the opposition after a weekend of large-scale protests, for which leaders blame the West.

December 31, 2009|By Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi
  • A woman holds up a placard picturing the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, left, and Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a pro-government rally in Tehran.
A woman holds up a placard picturing the founder of the Islamic Republic,… (Atta Kenare / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut — Tens of thousands of Iranians backing the country's rulers rallied in central Tehran on Wednesday, calling for the death of antigovernment protesters and opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Clad in black and holding portraits of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the government supporters chanted slogans for the Islamic Republic and against its opponents. "Death to Mousavi!" they chanted. "Death to opponents of velayet faqih," a reference to Iran's theocratic political system.

The gathering came as Mousavi attended a solemn burial ceremony for his nephew, who was shot to death during weekend riots.

The rally was in response to a weekend of large-scale antigovernment unrest coinciding with the religious holiday of Ashura. Iranian officials condemned the earlier protest as part of a foreign-backed plot to weaken the Islamic Republic.

"I advise Mr. Obama and some European leaders to learn a lesson from the fate of their predecessors and do not think that by creating scenes and kicking up ballyhoos they can disturb the united ranks of the Iranian nation," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said to reporters along the sidelines of a Cabinet meeting, according to the pro-government Fars News Agency.

Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said that Marxists and exiled opposition groups were behind the weekend's unrest and that some had been detained.

"We are convinced that the unrest that took place on Ashura was planned by anti-revolutionaries and these agents used the opportunity to reveal their true identity," Moslehi said during the Cabinet meeting, according to the news website Tabnak. "Key individuals have been arrested."

Still, rowdy protests broke out Wednesday on campuses in the Tehran suburb of Shahriar and in the eastern city of Mashhad, where armed militiamen allegedly attacked students, injuring at least 10, according to reformist websites and video posted on the Internet.

Iran's leaders have long been masters of gathering huge crowds for pro-government demonstrations. Amid a crackdown on opposition supporters and dissidents, authorities encouraged employees of government offices and state-owned businesses to attend the 3 p.m. rally.

Public schools were told to dispatch pupils to the event. The manager of a state-owned Tehran cement plant flatly ordered staff to attend, according to one employee. Authorities provided free shuttle buses and waived subway entrance fees to draw crowds.

The large demonstration in Tehran's Enghelab Square, promoted for days before on television and radio, was shown live on state television, which also reported official rallies in other cities.

Conservative groups protested what they called the "defiling of Ashura" by antigovernment protesters.

A speaker addressing the crowd said "the Great Satan" -- a reference to the U.S. -- was behind the unrest in the country, and the crowd chanted "Death to America!" "Death to Israel!" and "Death to Britain!"

Authorities sent a note to newspapers ordering them to place coverage of the day's rally on the front pages of today's editions, an Iranian reporter said.

The official rally in Tehran contrasted starkly with opposition protests, which are often met with tear gas and the swinging truncheons of security forces. Instead, amateur video posted on the Internet showed organizers handing juice to Wednesday's demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Mousavi attended the funeral of his 43-year-old nephew, Ali Habibi-Mousavi, who was shot during the protests Sunday in a case that remains unresolved.

Opposition websites said security was heavy at Habibi-Mousavi's burial in Tehran's main cemetery.

His body had been taken from the morgue and returned to the family on condition that the funeral be held out of the public eye, opposition news sources said.

Western officials have decried the violence in Iran, which is under international pressure because of its nuclear program.

Iran's office at the United Nations denied a widely circulated Associated Press report that Iran was trying to illegally import refined uranium from Kazakhstan.

"Such fabrications of news are parts of psychological warfare to serve the political interests of hegemonic powers," said a statement issued by the Iranians, according to a report Wednesday on Tabnak.

daragahi@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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