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Iran Opposition Leaders Attacked by Police

Thursday, 11 February 2010 09:43 AM

TEHRAN — Iranian opposition leaders Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi came under attack and their supporters clashed with police as vast crowds massed in Tehran on Thursday to mark the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The elite Revolutionary Guards and police had warned they would crack down heavily on any protests which, since they first erupted last June, have threatened the very pillars of the Islamic regime and split the senior clergy.

Opposition website Rahesabz and witnesses said clashes took place at Sadeghieh square, about a kilometre (mile) from where masses were gathered at Azadi (Freedom) Square to mark the toppling of the US-backed shah 31 years ago.

The website said the cars of the two leaders came under attack by police and plainclothes security men but neither was hurt. It added that police had fired tear gas at crowds of opposition supporters at several sites.

The reports could not independently be confirmed as the foreign media has been barred from covering the street marches.

Rahesabz also reported that ex-president Khatami's brother Mohammad Reza and his wife Zahra Eshraghi, a granddaughter of the Islamic revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were briefly detained by security forces.

Karroubi's son Hossein told AFP that his father was "not injured but his guards who were accompanying him were."

"They fired tear gas and were brandishing knives when they clashed with our supporters" before the cleric reached Sadeghieh square in western Tehran from where he was supposed to join the marches.

Karroubi's other son Ali was also arrested, Hossein said.

The clashes, which started in western districts, had spread to the northern suburbs by early afternoon, the opposition websites said, adding that security forces fired tear gas.

Some of the heaviest clashes took place in and around Vanak Square, a wealthy district of northern Tehran, with violence also reported in the western district of Amirabad, the websites said.

Apart from plainclothes security forces, reinforcements of the Basij volunteer militia were arriving at the site, near a key university dormitory where anti-shah demonstrations flared during the 1979 revolution.

The website and witnesses said motorcycle-mounted anti-riot police were seen moving into the key city centres, including around Iran's radio and television stations and offices of the country's supreme leader.

State television, meanwhile, showed footage of men, chador-clad women and children carrying banners reading "Death to America, Death to Israel!" massed at Azadi Square to mark the anniversary.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an address to the crowd said Iran has produced a "first stock" of 20 percent enriched uranium for its nuclear programme and is capable of enriching it to 80 percent but will not do so.

The hardline president also said Iran would soon triple its daily production of low-enriched uranium (3.5 percent), in defiance of the West and its threats of new sanctions over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.

But the UN nuclear watchdog said on Thursday in a restricted report that Iran would only start to produce its first batch of higher enriched uranium "within a few days" with a modest output in the initial phase.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were informed by Tehran that "Iran had begun to feed the (LEU) low-enriched uranium into one cascade" of centrifuges at its Natanz plant, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in the report.

Celebrations to mark the anniversary have traditionally been festive, and an opportunity for Iranian leaders to showcase popular support for the establishment.

But this year's event was disrupted by anti-government protests despite a massive security operation by the authorities, with Rahesabz reporting that "very large crowds" had gathered at Sadeghieh square.

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A witness told AFP that "police also fired tear gas and several rounds from air guns at opposition supporters." People who had gathered at the square were "hit with batons and iron rods by plainclothes men."

Hitting back at official efforts to stifle news of opposition protests, the opposition on Thursday launched an impromptu radio station on the Internet. The scratchy, live broadcast flashed news reports on the clashes.

Rahesabz, meanwhile, said opposition supporters were calling for fresh rallies in Tehran's major squares at 4 pm.

The protests also spread to at least three other cities, Ahvaz in southwest Iran, capital of the main oil-producing province of Khuzestan, and Isfahan in the centre of the country, the websites said.

About 100 arrests were made in Mashhad, Iran's second city, they said.

Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election last June plunged the Islamic republic into one of its worst ever political crises, with the opposition refusing to take the fight off the streets despite often deadly crackdowns.

Political upheaval in Iran since election

Iran's all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said he wanted Thursday's celebration -- as in past years -- to be a show of unity and to deliver a stunning "punch" to Western powers.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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TEHRAN — Iranian opposition leaders Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi came under attack and their supporters clashed with police as vast crowds massed in Tehran on Thursday to mark the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Thursday, 11 February 2010 09:43 AM
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