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Lakhs take part in Iran's pro-govt rallies

Reuters
Dec 31, 2009 at 02:05am IST

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Tehran: Hundreds of thousands of government supporters rallied across Iran on Wednesday, swearing allegiance to the clerical establishment and accusing opposition leaders of causing unrest in the Islamic state.

Iran's police chief warned supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi only to expect harsh treatment if they joined illegal anti-government rallies, three days after eight protesters were killed in demonstrations.

Hundreds of thousands took part in the government-organised demonstrations, which state television broadcast live, chanting slogans against the opposition leaders Mousavi and moderate defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karoubi.

IRAN PROTESTS: A demonstrator holds a poster of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a pro-government rally.

''You should repent ... otherwise the system will confront you as a 'mohareb' (enemy of God),'' cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda told a Tehran rally, directing his remarks at reformist leaders, state TV reported. Under Iran's sharia (Islamic law) the sentence for a mohareb is death.

In Tehran, crowds burned American and British flags, condemning what they said was interference by Washington and London in Iran's internal affairs.

Semi-official Fars news agency said a group of hardliners gathered in front of the British embassy in Tehran, chanting ''the British embassy should be closed down''.

Iran's top authority accused the West of basing its actions towards Iran on ''distorted realities''.

''They are under influence of foreign and Zionist (linked to Israel) news agencies' reports,'' Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, the students news agency ISNA reported.

There was no word of any opposition supporters on the streets on Wednesday, despite talk of demonstrations on reformist websites. Foreign media are restricted from moving around to report on such protests, which are illegal.

In Iran's bloodiest unrest since the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential election, eight people were killed on Sunday and at least 20 pro-reform figures, including three senior advisers to Mousavi, were arrested.

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United Nations Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay called on the Tehran government on Wednesday to curb excess use of force by its security services and expressed shock over violence.

The United States and its European allies have condemned Iran over Sunday's clashes.

PUNISH OPPOSITION LEADERS

Television footage of today's rallies in various cities showed people chanting ''Mousavi is responsible for bloodshed ... We support our Supreme Leader''. Some of them carried pictures of Khamenei. Similar rallies took place on Tuesday.

''People want the leaders of sedition to be punished. We will not remain silent over insulting the religion,'' one speaker told a Tehran rally, state TV reported.

''We have asked the judiciary to arrest the leaders of this sedition,'' said hardline MP Hasan Norouzi, without saying just how many lawmakers made the demand. ''Karoubi, Mousavi and all those who ignite tension should be arrested and tried.''

The semi-official Fars news agency said Mousavi's nephew, who was killed in Sunday's bloodshed, was buried on Wednesday at Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery.

Concern over political unrest in Iran helped to push oil prices briefly above $79 a barrel to fresh five-week highs on Tuesday and they held near that level on Wednesday.

Iran's police chief said ''there was no more room for tolerance over participants in illegal rallies''.

''Those who participate in illegal rallies will be confronted more harshly and the judiciary will confront them more decisively,'' said Esmail Ahmadi Moqadam, the official IRNA news agency reported. ''Some of Sunday's protesters are ... considered as mohareb and will be confronted firmly.''

Pro-government demonstrators also chanted ''Death to America'' and ''Death to Britain'', state TV reported. Iran, locked in a row with the West over its nuclear programme, has accused foreign powers of meddling in its affairs, provoking robust denials.

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