The enduring bitterness from last year's disputed presidential election in Iran erupted into fresh violence today as security forces clashed with opposition supporters who defied government warnings by gathering in the streets of Tehran. Government agents attacked with tear gas and batons, eyewitnesses said, as demonstrators tried to gather on two university campuses and in an area between two of Tehran's main squares.
(This amateur video captures the heavy police presence.)
Protests at Tehran's Sharif University
There were no immediate reports of casualties,
but one witness told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that people were being beaten by
security forces near Tehran University.
"In Enghelab square, close to Tehran university, Basijis [militiamen] are beating people with batons," the witness said. "They have closed the street and we have moved to Daneshgah street."
"They beat everybody close to Tehran University," another witness told Radio Farda. "Anybody who stops gets beaten up."
Protests at University of Tehran
Further disturbances were reported at Sharif
University in western Tehran. Members of the hard-line Basij volunteer force
were reported to have gathered outside the campus in an attempt to stop
protesters banding together. Opposition chants of "Allahu akbar" (God is great)
were heard from inside the campus, while others chanted the name of Mir Hossein
Musavi, as heard in
Witnesses also reported clashes between Enghelab Square and Azadi Square after the area was saturated with plain-clothes officers, while one unconfirmed report suggested the presence of agents armed with snipers guns riding on motorcycles.
"I saw the special unit force scatter people with batons in Enghelab Square," a witness said. "The whole place is full of plain-clothes [agents] and the motorcyclists who constantly ride back and forth. I saw some of their faces several times."
Another civilian at the scene reported seeing men on motorcycles carrying sniper rifles. "I'm not a military man, but I've seen it in the movies. They were snipers," he said. "I hope what Mr. Karrubi said two days ago won't come true. He said that they [the regime] is intending to shed blood...in Tehran."
Protests at Tehran's Sharif University
The incidents took place after opposition forces defied a government ban on demonstrations marking last year's presidential poll, which reformists say President Mahmud Ahmadinejad stole through massive ballot fraud.
A senior revolutionary guard commander, Reza Farzaneh, had earlier told the newspaper "Javan" that street protests were "unlikely." "But if the sedition movement creates a security crisis, we will confront them with full force," Farzaneh said.
The opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, had also withdrawn earlier calls for peaceful demonstrations, saying they did not want to put supporters' lives at risk.
Previous protests over the past year have met with fierce crackdowns that led to the deaths of at least 80 people. More than 5,000 people have been arrested and long jail sentences handed out to more than 100 political activists convicted in televised show trials.
Several activists have also been hanged and at least six remain on death row after being convicted of mohareb (fighting against God).
A massive security operation aimed at preventing a mass gathering today had been predicted, with security forces reported to have been patrolling the streets in intimidating numbers in recent weeks. Political activists had also reported receiving threatening phone calls from state security agents warning against fresh protests on the anniversary.
New Opposition Tactics
In a fresh statement issued on the evening of June 11, Musavi suggested a change of opposition tactics away from mass protests to enable dissent to continue. Vowing to "continue our peaceful methods," he said the opposition must use different means to spread its message, including "real and virtual social networks" as well as setting up television and radio stations outside the country.
Videos such as those shot on cell phones "are our best instruments. They act like an army," he said.
Speaking to Karrubi's website, Sahamnews, Musavi said Iran's rulers had turned away from the goals of the revolution and the constitution and accused them of "shutting peoples' mouths, banning the media, holding elections as we saw last year, and filling the prisons" with their opponents. But he said the opposition movement must stay "alive as they [Iran's rulers] will be afraid of this very thing."
In a separate statement, Karrubi renewed his call for free elections, saying "what counts is the vote of the people."
He said election results were currently being decided by the electoral watchdog, the Guardians Council, which is loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Sporadic skirmishes reported in Iran on election anniversary
Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Saturday began with calm on the streets of Tehran but witnesses said scattered clashes erupted later in the day between Iran's security forces and demonstrators gathering at key sites to mark the first anniversary of a contested presidential election.
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