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Police Unleash Force On Rally in Tehran

After a hotly contested election pitting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against leading challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, the government declared Ahmadinejad the winner on June 13. Mousavi's supporters took to the streets to protest the results, and were met with harsh security crackdowns.

In a separate development, state-run news media reported that a suicide bomber blew himself up near a shrine to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. They said the blast killed the bomber and injured three people.

Riot police on motorcycles aimed to head off marchers as Shiite Muslim clerics who had joined the protesters tried to lead them to Revolution Square, witnesses said.

Women clad in chadors pleaded with security forces to stop fighting the people, witnesses said. Some of the women chanted, "Help us, security force," as the police pushed protesters back.

Security forces used the Labor Ministry as a base from which they rode the motorcycles toward the crowds, and police blocked off several main roads leading to Azadi Street, where the protesters had planned to gather.

As water cannons blasted the Mousavi supporters on Azadi Street, fighting erupted in nearby alleys, witnesses said. Dumpsters were set on fire and used as barricades between youths and security forces, who pelted one another with stones.

In one alley, a middle-aged man held up a police baton that he said he had taken from security forces. Farther down the same road, a member of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, dressed in black overalls and a helmet, fired several rounds into the air with an assault rifle, witnesses said.

Large plumes of smoke filled the sky as the sun was setting. Youths said a gasoline station had been set ablaze.

In an interview on state television, a top police official, Brig. Gen. Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, said his men were preventing Mousavi supporters from gathering in central Tehran. "People are tired," he said. "They want to run their business. People want to come to the streets, to travel, to fly somewhere, to go to hospital, but they are stuck in traffic for hours and their rights are denied. This process is boring, disturbing and unbearable."

The confrontations came a day after Khamenei, Iran's ultimate political and religious authority, expressed his full support for the reelection of Ahmadinejad, rejecting allegations of vote fraud and declaring that foreign "enemies," including the United States, were behind the demonstrations.

By placing his seal of approval on the election's official results, Khamenei significantly raised the stakes for Iran's political opposition, which must now concede the election or be seen as challenging the supreme leader directly. So far, Mousavi and his supporters have questioned the election's validity but not the country's theocratic system of governance.

In a dramatic speech before thousands of worshipers at a Friday prayer service, Khamenei warned that the leaders of the protests will be held "directly responsible" for any bloodshed that results from continued demonstrations.

Ahmadinejad on Saturday publicly thanked Khamenei for effectively endorsing his reelection. In his first public statement since Khamenei's comments at Friday prayers, Ahmadinejad said: "As a small child and chosen server by the great Iranian nation, I feel I need to cordially thank you for the good decision . . . and making helpful comments and powerfully announcing the people's rightful stances on important issues of the day." In a message to Khamenei carried by several local news agencies, the president added: "You wave the flag of honor over the head of our nation. You stood against the oppressors."

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