Protesters, Officers Clash Violently In Iran’s Streets

Street Protests Continue in Downtown Tehran

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LOS ANGELES TIMES

Over 1,000 demonstrators gather in Tehran, continuing to protest the June 12 presidential election. Security forces fire tear gas and beat protesters. Many people wear masks to hide their identities.

By Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi

8:05 AM PDT, July 9, 2009

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut — Violent clashes erupted today in downtown Tehran between more than a thousand determined young men and women chanting, “Death to the dictator” and “God is great” and security forces wielding truncheons.

The screams of a woman being beaten could be heard from nearby buildings, a witness said. Business owners could be seen hustling protesters into their buildings to shield them from plainclothes officers and anti-riot police who fired tear gas canisters.

Passing drivers and motorcyclists honked their horns and flashed the “V” sign in support of the clumps of demonstrators. At least one trash bin was set afire, a witness said, sending a plume of black smoke rising as dusk approached.

Many of the demonstrators wore surgical masks to protect their identities from cameras stationed at adjacent buildings. They could be seen escaping into side streets and regrouping as shops quickly were shuttered.

Some witnesses said pro-government Basiji militiamen also could be seen wearing masks to hide their faces from digital cameras.

Protesters chanted in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was defeated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in disputed elections last month, and urged the security forces to join them.

Uniformed security forces on motorcycles wearing black helmets and plainclothes officers had blocked off streets around Revolution Square, near the Tehran University epicenter of the protest. The Basiji militiamen could be seen fanning out throughout side streets to block demonstrators trying to flee. Armored police vans to haul away protesters could be seen parked along the roadways.

But as the militiamen tried to drag away demonstrators, one witness said, protesters joined together to overpower them and rescue their comrades. The witness also said he saw some women with their headscarves pulled off being forced into police vans. Another woman taking pictures with her cellphone camera was dragged away.

Despite the lack of formal organization and leadership, thousands of people in cities across Iran were determined to march today in unauthorized demonstrations to show their discontent over Ahmadinejad’s reelection and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of a violent confrontation between students and security forces.

Tehran Gov. Gen. Morteza Tamaddon said earlier today that any protesters would receive a “crushing” response, and security forces appeared to be responding brutally at times to the attempt at a public demonstration. One witness described how five Basiji militiamen pummeled an elderly lady who loudly warned them that they would receive their comeuppance on Judgment Day.

Tammadon said, “The enemies of the Iranian nation are angry with the postelection calm in Iran and try to damage it through their TV channels.”

Ahmadinejad’s June 12 reelection, marred by opposition allegations of massive vote-rigging, has created the biggest political rift within the nation since the first years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A movement built on Mousavi’s campaign continues to challenge authorities, who have attempted to crush dissent by beating and jailing demonstrators.

The Guardian Council, which oversaw the vote and a limited recount, announced Wednesday that it would publish an 80-page report addressing complaints about the election to submit to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Iranian people, according to the pro-government Fars news agency.

Iranian hard-line cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami publicly denied reports that some clergy were gathering signatures to remove or reduce the power of Khamenei, according to Fars, an unusual comment that some analysts said only served to heighten rumors that such a move was afoot.

The Assembly of Experts, which oversees the office of the supreme leader, is led by Khamenei’s rival, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, within Iran’s unique political system, which grants the clergy absolute rule under a theological concept known as Velayat Faqih, or the guardianship of jurisprudence.

“I reassure the great Iranian nation that the Assembly of Experts will protect Velayat Faqih and will carry out its duty, which is safeguarding Velayat Faqih,” said Khatami.

daragahi@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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