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Reports Of Deaths Mount In Iran Clashes

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 27.12.2009 14:33

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Opposition and other unofficial sources claim at least eight protesters have been killed and many others injured in clashes between government critics and security forces in Iran.

A nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi was said to be among those killed.

The police chief in Tehran, where at least four deaths were being reported, insisted in the afternoon that no deaths had occurred.

The opposition "Rahe Sabz" website reported that three protesters had been shot dead by security forces in the middle of the Iranian capital's central Enghelab Street. A Tehran-based human rights activist told RFE/RL that a fourth protester apparently had died after being hit on the head with truncheon by security forces.

"So far there have been no reports of killings, and no one has been killed up to now," Reuters quoted Tehran police chief Azizollah Rajabzadeh as saying in the afternoon, based on an ISNA report.

Later, the opposition "Jaras" website claimed that "at least four protesters were killed in [the northwestern Iranian city of] Tabriz and many others were wounded," Reuters reported.

Jarring Images

The reports of deaths, as well as a YouTube video purporting to show demostrators carrying a gunshot victim, could not be immediately verified.

But graphic videos and photographs of serious injuries have emerged, appearing to confirm some of the worst fears.

The "Parlimannews" website -- which has ties to reformists in Iran's parliament -- reported that Seyed Ali Musavi, the opposition leader's nephew, had been killed during a confrontation with security forces. The report said the younger Musavi had been "shot in the heart" during "Ashura Day events" and died en route to a hospital.

A Musavi aide who requested anonymity after being contacted by RFE/RL's Radio Farda confirmed the report of the relative's death.

In an open letter posted later addressed to Musavi and posted to his "Kaleme" website, adviser Alireza Beheshti expressed his family's condolences over "the martyrdom of your nephew Ali Habibi Musavi."

The violence in Shi'a-dominated Iran is especially jarring as it comes on one of the holiest days on Shi'ite Islam's calendar, Ashura, commemorating the seventh-century martyrdom of Imam Hussein.

As evening approached in Iran, government critics have vowed to continue the protests. Eyewitnesses said that appeared to be the case.

A pro-opposition website, "Jaras," said the opposition was organizing more protests in major public parks and in Tehran's Enghelab, Mohseni, Tajrish, and Vanak squares.

Tear Gas And Reported Gunfire

Iranian authorities have banned foreign journalists from many events and imposed tight strictures on domestic media.

Around midday, an eyewitness told Radio Farda by telephone from Tehran that security forces were using tear gas and pepper gas against opposition supporters to try to disperse them from the city center.

She reported "a big crowd of people" at the intersection of Bozorgmehr and Vali Asr streets.

"The [security forces] on motorbikes attacked [the crowd]. I can see about 100 or 150 of them," the witness told Radio Farda. "People have set fire to several garbage cans. They're trying to chant slogans against the leader of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and the dictatorship."

The witness, who did not want to be named for security reasons, added that she saw blood on some of the sidewalks in central Tehran.

Other reports, mostly from websites sympathetic to the opposition, reported occasional sounds of gunfire.

Today's protest and bloody clashes come seven days after the death of Iran's longtime dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Montazeri was once in line to succeed revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini but had a falling-out that led to jail time and internal exile.

Montazeri is widely considered the spiritual father of Iran's opposition Green Movement, although two unsuccessful presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Musavi and cleric Mehdi Karrubi, have been the political faces of the resistance that began after the disputed June presidential election.

Witnesses told RFE/RL many of the chants targeted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Energized Reform Movement?

Montazeri's death has appeared to reenergize the opposition movement, which turned his funeral in the holy city of Qom a week ago into a huge antigovernment protest.

Since Montazeri's death last week, protests have taken place in several cities including Tehran, Isfahan, Najafabad and Zanjan.

Protests are also reported today in Isfahan, Montazeri's hometown of Najafabad, Shiraz, and Qom.

On Ashura, Iranians usually march in the streets and beat their chests in memory of the death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hossein.

This year, however, many of the Ashura ceremonies in Iran have turned into protests against the Iranian establishment.

A speech on December 26 by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami at the home of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, was disrupted by hard-liners.

Khatami, who backed Musavi ahead of the disputed June presidential election as is regarded as a leader of the reform movement, was reportedly drawing parallels between Iran's opposition movement and the struggle of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussein, whose martyrdom is being commemorated today in one of Shi'a Islam's holiest days.

The incident led to protests for several hours until riot police were deployed and dispersed the crowd.

Iran has been rocked by a series of street protests since the June 12 presidential vote and the reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, which the opposition insists was the result of massive fraud.

Radio Farda broadcasters Mohammad Reza Kazemi and Roozbeh Bolhari contributed to this report

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Four_Reported_Killed_In_Iran_Clashes/1914712.html

Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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