Sat, Sep 19, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Iranian opposition, riot police clash

AFP , TEHRAN

Iranian opposition supporters fought running battles with riot police and hardliners yesterday as tens of thousands mounted the first protest in two months against the re-election of hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Protesters defied dire warnings from top officials against demonstrating during the annual mass display of solidarity with the Palestinians that is one of the set pieces of the Islamic regime.

As Ahmadinejad himself gave the keynote speech at Tehran University renewing comments about Israel and the “myth” of the Holocaust that have sparked an international outcry, tens of thousands chanted “Death to the dictator” in nearby streets, witnesses said.

Shouting slogans in support of the president’s main challenger in the June 12 election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the protesters gathered in major squares around the capital before joining the annual march to Tehran University.

Supporters of the regime among the more than 100,000 people who joined the Quds (Jerusalem) Day rally, mounted counter-demonstrations leading to repeated scuffles between the two sides, witnesses said.

Riot police, armed with batons, beat protesters who were pelting them with stones in the central Haft-e Tir Square, witnesses said.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters who were throwing stones and shouting “Torture and rape are not effective any more,” a witness said.

The demonstrators were referring to opposition allegations of abuses against some of the more than 4,000 activists and reformist politicians detained during the post-election disturbances.

Plainclothes militiamen also battled the protesters in the same square.

“The plainclothesmen on motorcycles rode into the crowd of opposition supporters as they were returning from the rally, detained several of them and beat them with batons,” a witness said.

The demonstrators continued to chant “Death to the dictator” and “Allahu Akbar [God is greatest]” as they were being beaten, the witness added.

The opposition leader was forced to abandon his plans to take part in the rally after an angry crowd of hardliners shouting “Death to the hypocrite Mousavi” attacked his car, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Former president Mohammad Khatami, a key supporter of Mousavi whose 1997 to 2005 term of office saw a thaw in relations with the West, was also assaulted by hardliners before being rescued by riot police, reformist Web site Parlemennews.ir reported.

Khatami’s brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, said the former president was “not hurt.”

“Some people shouted slogans against him,” the brother said. “He is home now. He is not hurt and he is fine.”

In his Quds Day address, the president again described the mass extermination of Jews during World War II was a “myth” and said Israel was on its way to collapse.

“They [the Western powers] launched the myth of the Holocaust. They lied, they put on a show and then they support the Jews,” he said to chants of “Death to Israel” from his supporters among the crowd. “The pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is a lie ... a lie which relies on an unreliable claim, a mythical claim, and the occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust. This regime’s days are numbered and it is on its way to collapse. This regime is dying.”

Similar comments made after his first election as president sparked an international outcry and prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to describe Iran as an “existential threat” to the Jewish state.

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