By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 22, 2009; A12
TEHRAN -- Tens of thousands of Iranians turned out Monday for the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the religious leader of Iran's opposition movement, with many of them using the occasion to demonstrate against the central government.
A day after Montazeri died at age 87 of multiple organ failure, several leading ayatollahs paid their respects to the cleric in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Qom. His body was carried through the city in a shrouded glass coffin on top of a semitrailer, which moved slowly through a sea of weeping mourners.
The funeral was marred by sporadic violence, with several mourners clashing with groups of vigilantes, according to reports from witnesses and opposition Web sites. One site reported that a car carrying Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was attacked by "plainclothes men" on motorbikes; Mousavi was not hurt but a guard suffered minor injuries, the pro-opposition Rah-e Sabz Web site reported.
Earlier in the day, about 100 members of the pro-government Basij militia attacked Montazeri's house and tore up a banner displaying his portrait, his son Saeed Montazeri said in a telephone interview from the house. "They attacked -- they lost all control," he said. "They started to throw stones at people and tore down the mourning banner of my father."
Reports from Qom could not be independently verified. Authorities denied foreign correspondents permission to travel to the city, which is about 90 miles south of Tehran.
Montazeri's death on Sunday presented the Iranian opposition with a chance to show its strength, six months after disputes over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection victory led to street unrest and the mass arrest of dissidents. Analysts said that the mourning period for Montazeri, which will last 40 days, could help fuel more gatherings against the government.
On Monday, many Iranians who had little connection to Montazeri attended his funeral.
"Many hip young people from Tehran, who usually have no interest in Montazeri, were there, crying," one witness said. "It was very moving, and many people shouted slogans against the government."
Those gathered yelled statements such as "Montazeri is not dead, the government is dead" and "Dictator, dictator, we will follow Montazeri's path." Government supporters, who were present in smaller numbers, shouted, "Hypocrites, leave Qom."