Witnesses: Police Fire Tear Gas At Tehran Protesters
Hundreds of protesters are reported to have answered an Iranian opposition call to turn out for a banned rally in Tehran.
Iran's Islamist regime launched a series of crackdowns on opposition groups that called for the rally in solidarity with antigovernment demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia.
Hundreds of Iranian security troops were deployed on the streets of Tehran to prevent the planned rally. But reports say hundreds of protesters attempted to stage scattered demonstrations across the capital (video: protesters chant "Mubarak, Ben Ali, time's up for Seyyed Ali [Khamenei]").
Witnesses reported seeing crowds forming at key locations like Tehran's Haft-e Tir Square, Karim Khan Avenue, Ferdowsi Square, and Hafez Street. One witness said at least 1,000 security troops were deployed in each of those locations.
Meanwhile, a crowd that formed at Imam Hussein Square could be seen walking quietly toward Enghelab Square (video) near Tehran University.
One witness told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that there were clashes near Enghelab Square between protesters and security forces. That witness said security forces used batons and fired into the air to disperse the protesters.
Reports say small groups that tried to gather in two other locations were dispersed by riot police on motorcycles who were armed with riot shotguns, tear gas, batons, and fire extinguishers.
Authorities enforcing the ban on the demonstration, meanwhile, were diverting traffic from the planned route of the march to other streets. Most shops along the route have been closed for the day.
Mobile-telephone connections were reportedly down in the area of the protests. Protests have been reported in the towns of Esfahan, Shiraz, and Kermanshah (This video shows security forces massing in the city of Mashhad.)
Earlier today, Iranian police blocked access to the house of opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi, cutting his telephone lines to prevent him from attending today's demonstration or communicating with protesters who took to the streets of Tehran.
Musavi's website, kaleme.com, said security forces deployed police vans and other vehicles in the alley that leads to the home of Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard.
The website said all telephone connections at the house, including mobile-phone links for Musavi and his wife, had been cut. Opposition websites also reported that Musavi's wife was prevented from leaving the house today by plainclothes police officers.
Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, a Paris-based aide of Musavi, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the "very idea of holding rallies" to support democratic movements in the Middle East is a "great victory" for Iran's opposition movement.
"Those authorities who try to prevent the rallies using threats and fear mongering are aware of this issue. And we hope that this rally will take place in a complete peaceful manner along with precautions taken to guarantee people’s optimum well-being and security," Arjomand said.
"We are asking all people to pay attention to the fact that we are a peaceful movement and we seek to show that democracy is important and essential for all people the world over. We defend the Egyptian people. We defend all those who seek democracy."
'A New Middle East'
Iranian state television has repeatedly shown footage of a state-organized rally on February 11 that marked the 32nd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad claimed at the rally that antigovernment protests spreading across the Arab world -- including those which led to the ouster of autocratic presidents of Tunisia and Egypt -- are an extension of the Islamic Revolution that toppled Iran's U.S.-backed monarch in 1979.
"Soon a new Middle East -- without the U.S. and the Zionist regime -- will be created and the oppressors will not have a place in the Middle East," Ahmadinejad said.
Arjomand said Ahmadinejad's regime should accept that Iranians are "a wise people" who are able "to express their views in the streets in all calmness and demand their own rights."
But the Iranian regime continues to deny opposition protesters the right to demonstrate against the disputed 2009 presidential election results that kept Ahmadinejad in office for a second term.
Frustrated by the government's violent crackdowns on street protests, many Iranians who are unhappy with Ahmadinejad's regime turned to a safer way to express their discontent overnight -- shouting "God is great!" and "Death to the dictator!" from their rooftops in Tehran. Such chants were common during the 2009 postelection unrest.
The former head of Iran's state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency, reformist leader Abdollah Naseri, also was detained today by security agents who carried an arrest warrant from Iran's chief prosecutor.
Naseri is a member of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization -- one of Iran's most prominent reformist parties. Considered to be one of the more moderate figures in the ranks of the reformists, Naseri was forced to resign from his job at the state news agency because of his political views.
Another prominent opposition politician, Mehdi Karrubi, was put under house arrest on February 10 in Tehran.
The arrests are part of a wider campaign by authorities to tighten the grip on political dissidents and activists -- a crackdown that has led to the arrest of other Iranian activists since last week when the government denied official permission for today's rally.
The BBC said the regime in Tehran also jammed its Persian-language television transmissions to Iran following its extensive coverage of the uprising in Egypt.
written by Ron Synovitz, with reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda and news agencies
Copyright (c) 2011. 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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