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Iran opposition renews calls for rally; government forbids any marches

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 6:27 PM

TEHRAN - A Web site connected to one of Iran's opposition leaders on Sunday renewed calls for a rally in support of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, setting the stage for a possible confrontation Monday between the government and its critics.

The statement on the site - the unofficial outlet of former presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi - stressed that any use of violence by security forces would be an international "disgrace" and would undermine the government's public support for the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia.

Iranian officials have refused to grant a permit for Monday's demonstration, but the text posted on Kalameh.com said that the Interior Ministry would be held responsible for the safety of the protesters.

"Do not allow the infiltrating agents of those seeking violence to derail the demonstrations with their aggressive behavior under any circumstances," the statement reads. "The noble people of Iran should participate in the peaceful demonstration, with calm and resolve."

Several student groups and a clerical council said they will join the demonstrations. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential cleric who is critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also seemed to support the protesters. "I advise the discontented sections of society to come onto the scene. This revolution belongs to them as well. Everyone should come," he said Saturday in an interview with Jam e Jam, a state newspaper. It was unclear whether he was speaking specifically about Monday's event.

Both the government of Iran and the grass-roots opposition movement here have endorsed the protests that brought down leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. But where the government sees signs of new Islamic revolutions in those nations, the opposition - which launched unprecedented protests after Ahmadinejad's disputed 2009 election victory - has supported the calls for more freedom by the protesters in North Africa.

Anti-government protests in Iran in 2009 were met by baton-wielding security forces and paramilitaries who effectively ended demonstrations by disgruntled middle-class urbanites. Those protesters called for the resignation of Ahmadinejad and for more civil liberties and influence.

The government Sunday declared any protest to be illegal and accused the political leaders of the opposition, Mousavi and fellow former presidential challenger Mehdi Karroubi, of being hypocrites.

"They will never get a permit to riot," Mehdi Alikhani Sadr, a senior Interior Ministry official, was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars News Agency on Sunday.

On Saturday, the White House called on the Iranian government to allow its people to assemble. "The Iranian government has declared illegal for Iranians what it claimed was noble for Egyptians," national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon said in a statement.

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