Tens of thousands of Iran regime loyalists, many carrying posters of supreme… (Atta Kenara / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Tehran — Thousands of Iranian government supporters gathered for a Friday prayer sermon rally meant to counter the resurgent opposition movement that staged a boisterous and scattered day of protests this week.
But Iranian authorities Friday appeared to have backed off calls to execute Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the opposition leaders who called for the protests held Monday.
The two reformist politicians, now under virtual house arrest, have called on supporters to head to the streets again Sunday.
In his Friday sermon, hard-line prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of a powerful clerical council, urged tough measures against the two, but stopped short of seeking their arrest or execution.
"What the judiciary could do is to totally cut their connection to the people and de facto imprison them inside their own houses," the cleric told thousands of supporters. "The doors of their houses should be shut and their telephone lines and Internet be cut so that they can no longer have any contacts and give any messages."
Worshipers shouted slogans such as "Illiterate Mousavi is an agent of Mossad," the Israeli spy agency, and "Mousavi and Karroubi should be hanged."
"I would like to say to these seditionists: Your time has expired," Jannati said. "Those who say the seditionists should be executed should bear in mind that the [reformist leaders] are already executed. They have fallen in society and lost credibility and dignity."
Government supporters gathered for the prayer sermon said they would clamp down on any demonstrations Sunday.
"I think the Mousavi supporters are nothing but a bunch of sissies who are well off and run away when we shout 'Ya Hussein,' " said Hassan, 21, a member of the Basiji militia who declined to give his last name. "We will give them a lesson on Sunday too. Who are Mousavi and Karroubi? They are stooges of the U.S. and Israel."
The opposition movement sprang out of the disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The latest sharpening of the confrontation between Iran's powerful hard-liners and a moderate faction that once controlled much of the government follows popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that swept away long-ruling autocrats.
Iranian authorities originally hailed the revolts abroad as emulations of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the Shiite clergy to power here. But Jannati on Friday lamented the lack of a religious component in Egypt's uprising.
"Why are the clergymen in Egypt lagging behind the people?" he said in his speech. "The clergymen and religious scholars in Egypt should try to share in the new Egyptian government."
Mostaghim is a special correspondent.