New street clashes in Tehran; Zahra Rahnavard arrested?

Bloody clashes were reported from Tehran June 24 as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would not yield to pressure over the disputed election. The renewed confrontation took place in Baharestan Square, near parliament, where hundreds of protesters faced off against several thousand riot police and other security personnel.

Witnesses likened the scene to a Ā­war zone, with helicopters hovering overhead, many arrests and the police beating demonstrators. Tear gas and armored vehicles were deployed. The opposition website Rooz Online carried what it said was an interview with a man the government had shipped in to Tehran to quell the demonstrations. He said he was being paid 2 million rial (approx. $200) to assault protesters with a heavy wooden stave, and that other volunteers, most of them from rural provinces, were being kept in hostel accommodations in east Tehran.

Witnesses reported that some 1,000 protesters tried to gather at Baharestan Square, although they were outnumbered by riot police and members of the Basij volunteer militia. Iranians who witnessed the violence wrote in Farsi-language Internet postings that many protesters were injured by police and Basij members who lashed out with clubs, pipes and electric cables and fired live ammunition into the air. Witnesses said many protesters wore black to show respect for demonstrators killed in earlier rallies.

State-run media accounts denied that there was any violence. Press TV, English-language arm of Iran’s state-run television, said that security forces dispersed about 200 demonstrators outside a subway station at Baharestan Square, while some 50 other protesters were prevented from gathering in a nearby area.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated presidential candidate who says the June 12 vote was rigged, has not been seen since June 18 and is widely believed to be in hiding. But the protests were organized through his official Web site, and he has previously sent messages urging the demonstrators to continue their rallies.

Zahra Rahnavard arrested?
There were also unconfirmed reports that Zahra Rahnavard, wife of Mousavi, had been arrested. Earlier in the day she had called on the authorities to release Iranians who had been detained. In remarks posted on her husband’s website, Rahnavard said: “I regret the arrest of many politicians and people and want their immediate release. It is my duty to continue legal protests to preserve Iranian rights.”

Rahnavard, who galvanized women voters by campaigning at Mousavi’s side, said the government should not treat his supporters “as if martial law has been imposed in the streets.”

Khamenei intransigent
The latest confrontations came as Ayatollah Khamenei, whose authority has been challenged by the massive protests, said on state television: “I had insisted and will insist on implementing the law on the election issue. Neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure at any cost.”

But one of the defeated presidential candidates, Mehdi Karroubi, stepped up his challenge to the regime, describing the government as illegitimate. Karroubiā€”a reformist cleric and the most liberal of the presidential candidatesā€”said on his website: “I do not accept the result and therefore consider as illegitimate the new government. Because of the irregularities, the vote should be annulled.”

Iran’s guardian council has ruled out an annulment of the election, saying there were no major irregularities, although it admitted that more people had voted than were registered in 50 areas. It was announced June 23 that official victor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in by mid-August. (The Guardian, McClatchy Newspapers, Jerusalem Post, June 24)

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