Tens of thousands of government supporters rallied across Iran yesterday to call for the punishment of opposition leaders for fomenting unrest after June’s disputed presidential poll, state media reported.
Hardline rulers intensified a crackdown on the reform movement on Sunday by rounding up leading moderates to try to end street protests after deadly weekend clashes erupted during the Shiite Muslim religious ritual of Ashura.
At least 18 opposition figures have been arrested since Sunday, including three senior advisers to opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, his brother-in-law and a sister of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, opposition Web sites reported. Ebadi confirmed her sister’s arrest.
The powerful Revolutionary Guards issued a statement yesterday accusing foreign media and enemies of the revolution of joining hands to harm Iran’s establishment.
Iran summoned the British ambassador in Tehran yesterday over criticism of its crackdown on opposition protests, Britain’s Foreign Office said, adding that the envoy would respond “robustly” to any criticism and reiterate that Iran must respect human rights.
Tens of thousands of people chanted “We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]”, state TV reported, saying the nationwide demonstrations had taken place spontaneously.
“Demonstrators demand the punishment of those behind Sunday’s protests which insulted religion,” state TV reported, referring to the protests during Ashura.
The scale of yesterday’s demonstrations could not be independently verified because of restrictions on foreign media’s movements.
Iranian authorities say eight people were killed in clashes on Sunday. Police said the “suspicious deaths” were being investigated, adding dozens of security men were injured in the clashes.
Authorities blame what they call foreign-backed “terrorist groups” for the killings, including the death of Mousavi’s nephew, Ali Habibi Mousavi Khamene.
Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani urged the judiciary to arrest those behind Sunday’s rally: “Identify them, arrest them and firmly punish those who insulted religion.”