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Skirmishes break out at funeral of man killed in Iranian protests

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 8:02 PM

TEHRAN - Skirmishes broke out Wednesday at the funeral of a man killed during anti-government demonstrations, Iranian state television reported, as the state prosecutor declared that opposition leaders would face trial.

Although opposition Web sites say the two people killed in protests Monday were anti-government demonstrators, state television said the victims were members of a paramilitary organization and were killed by opposition supporters, as government-backed entities have asserted.

"Students and the people attending the funeral ceremony of the martyred student have clashed with a limited number of people apparently linked to the sedition movement and forced them out by chanting slogans of death to hypocrites," the state TV Web site said.

The skirmishes occurred near the College of Fine Arts in Tehran, where one of the victims, Sane Jhaleh, had been a student. Witnesses said that about 500 members of the paramilitary Basij organization gathered there and were joined by other people. Dozens of the college's students have been arrested, witnesses said, but it was unclear whether they participated in protests.

The pro-government demonstrators called for the death of leaders of the grass-roots opposition movement, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi. They said the opposition protests Monday were part of a plot organized by the United States and domestic followers to topple Iran's leaders.

Iran's national prosecutor said Wednesday that opposition leaders would "certainly" be put on trial. "The recent actions of the heads of sedition are unforgivable," said Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance told the few foreign media representatives in Iran to stay in their offices Wednesday.

The Basij militia accused opposition activists of shooting Jhaleh, a 26-year-old Iranian Kurd, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported. The Basij said Jhaleh was a member of the group, but opposition Web sites said he had nothing to do with the it and was a known opposition supporter.

An opposition Web site, Kaleme.com, said pro-government militants occupied the arts faculty Wednesday morning. It said several people were attacked and a large number arrested.

"The martyr's fellow students were standing against the walls watching a large crowd of strangers who had entered the university," said Sajjad Rezaie, head of the faculty's pro-government Islamic Association, according to Kaleme.

"University occupied by the military - martyr's body carried on the shoulders of murderers," read a headline on the Kaleme Web site after Jhaleh's coffin, draped in the Iranian flag, was carried through the streets by Basij members. During the procession, the militiamen chanted, "I will kill the person who killed my brother," and shouted other slogans against Karroubi and Mousavi.

The Sahamnews.org Web site, which is connected to Karroubi, said the government was trying to turn "killed demonstrators" into their own martyrs. The Web site and several student organizations connected to the opposition have called on protesters to prevent the "hijacking of the blood of Jhaleh."

A more subdued funeral ceremony was held for the second man killed Monday, 22-year-old Mohammad Mokhtari, Fars reported. The agency said he was "shot by hypocrite groups."

On Tuesday, in an ominous turn to the Iranian unrest, scores of hard-line lawmakers called for the execution of Mousavi, 68, a reformist former prime minister, and Karroubi, 73, who once served as speaker of parliament. Both men ran against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a June 2009 election that the government said Ahmadinejad won in a landslide but that the opposition contended was stolen. Mousavi and Karroubi have been under house arrest for some time.

Karroubi and Mousavi issued statements Wednesday praising the protests. Karroubi said he was willing to "pay any price" to bring social and political change to Iran, Sahamnews.org reported. Intelligence officers raided the house of his son Hossein, but he was not at home, the Web site reported.

Mousavi denied accusations that the opposition had ties to Western nations, as its critics contend. He said the opposition was under attack from "authoritarian leaders" inside and "foreigners, trying to ride the wave of our movement."

Internet restrictions were partially lifted Wednesday.

Special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie contributed to this report.

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