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Iran Opposition: Huge Turnout for Cleric's Funeral


Source: VOA; photos by Mohammad Akhlaghi, Mehr News Agency

Mourners came from across Iran to the holy city of Qom to attend the burial of Ayatollah Montazeri.

Mourners attend the funeral ceremony of Iranian Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the spiritual father of Iran's reform movement, his body in a casket at left, in the city of Qom, Iran, 21 Dec 2009

Opposition forces in Iran say tens of thousands of people turned out for the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. The dissident cleric died Sunday, and supporters immediately took to the streets in mourning.

Mourners came from across Iran to the holy city of Qom to attend the burial of Ayatollah Montazeri.

Iranian authorities banned foreign media coverage of the event. But opposition websites and videos posted online show crowds turning out in force to hail the man considered the spiritual guide for opponents of the government.

The ayatollah, who was 87, was buried in the shrine of Masoumeh in Qom Monday. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi declared it a day of mourning and had urged supporters to come to the funeral.

Opposition websites report at least one busload of people trying to reach Qom was turned back, while there were other reports of arrests. There was no immediate government or independent confirmation of the reports.

Security was already tight as Iranians observe an annual period of mourning. Such events have been used by opposition supporters to protest against the government.

Observers note that the first week commemoration of Montazeri's death Sunday will coincide with the marking of the solemn Ashoura holiday.

Montazeri was one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic and remained a top arbiter of Shi'ite law. But his criticism of what he saw as authoritarianism and human rights abuses led to his being dropped as successor to the nation's Supreme Leader.

The ayatollah continued his opposition from Qom, where he spent several years under house arrest for his outspoken views. This year he played a critical role in condemning the government after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a subsequent crackdown on opposition supporters.

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