Iranian security forces clash with protesters backing detained opposition leaders

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, people in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 3:23 PM

TEHRAN - Iranian security forces clashed with demonstrators and shot tear gas Tuesday to break up a rally in support of two opposition leaders who have been targeted in a new crackdown on anti-government protests, an opposition Web site reported.

Witnesses said large crowds marched along the main Enghelab (Revolution) Street, where large numbers of professional and voluntary security forces were stationed.

"They occasionally stop us, but we are still here," a participant said by telephone.

In clashes at major intersections and squares along the six-mile-long boulevard, security forces fired tear gas at the demonstrators, and protesters set fire to trash cans, witnesses said.

Opposition Web sites reported similar anti-government protests, clashes and arrests in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, in the northeast, and in Shiraz in the south-central part of the country.

The semiofficial Tabnak Web site wrote that "groups of anti-revolutionaries . . . tried to create riots in busy parts of Tehran, but they were not supported by the people and were quickly dispersed."

Internet service was cut in parts of Tehran during the protest, although cellphones were still working.

"I have to run," one man said during the demonstration. "There is a cloud of tear gas coming our way."

Another witness, who said he had been wounded by a member of the Basij paramilitary force, spoke of packed streets and increasingly daring protesters.

"Everybody would boo at Basijis when they zipped by on their motorcycles waving Iranian and religious flags, whereas they were friendly and close with the police," said the witness, who gave his name only as Ahmad.

The demonstration was to protest the reported arrests of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. It was called by an anonymous opposition council through Web sites belonging to the two former presidential candidates.

Iran's chief prosecutor said Monday that the two main opposition leaders were placed under "restrictive circumstances" and not allowed to receive visitors or make phone calls.

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