Iranian security forces raid opposition offices, arrest key dissidents

In Iran on Sunday, anti-government protests, held to coincide with the Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura, became violent between demonstrators and police under the command of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. At least five demonstrators have been killed, including Ali Mousavi, 32, the nephew of opposition political leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
By Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TEHRAN -- Iranian security forces stormed opposition offices in a series of raids Monday and rounded up at least a dozen prominent dissidents in a new crackdown on the country's reformist movement, opposition Web sites and activists reported.

The arrests came a day after violent clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces coinciding with Ashura, the peak of an intense mourning period in Shiite Islam. At least eight people were killed in the clashes, state television reported. Opposition sources said the death toll was higher.

Among those reported arrested were Ali Reza Beheshti, a top aide to political opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi; Emadeddin Baghi, a human rights activist; and Ibrahim Yazdi, a 78-year-old former foreign minister who was in Iran's first government after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Security forces also detained two people in a raid on a foundation run by reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, news agencies said.

According to police, more than 300 protesters were arrested Sunday during violence that left dozens of officers injured. But video posted on the Internet showed wounded protesters, their heads bloodied in clashes with club-wielding security forces.

Speaking to reporters in Hawaii, where he is vacationing, President Obama expressed solidarity with opponents of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and called for the immediate release of those "unjustly detained" in Iran.

"The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries and even death," Obama said. He said Iranians seeking only to "exercise their universal rights" have repeatedly been met "with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days," as the world has watched their struggle "with deep admiration."

Obama warned that "the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away." He called on the Tehran government to abide by international obligations "to respect the rights of its own people" and said he was "confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice."

European leaders joined in condemning the crackdown. German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Iran to respect "the right to free speech through peaceful demonstrations."

A top Revolutionary Guard Corps general accused the United States and Britain of organizing the protests and demanded a review of Iran's relations with European countries. "We must counter some European countries, especially the government and rulers of England who stand beside America," said Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, the cultural deputy of the combined chiefs of staff, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency. The United States and Britain "are the main supporters of such conspiracies and seditions and teach terrorism clearly in their media," he said.

Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition leader who ran in Iran's June 12 presidential election, posted a statement on an opposition Web site asking how the government could shed its people's blood on the Shiite sacred day of Ashura and denouncing the perpetrators as "a group of savage individuals." He said even the former government of the shah of Iran respected the holy day.

Opposition members said they fear that the new crackdown is aimed at silencing their movement. Several top officials, including Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have warned opposition leaders that they could be arrested and tried.

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