Iranian security forces today rounded up at least seven prominent activists amid reports that the body of the opposition leader’s nephew, killed on Sunday as hundreds of thousands took to the streets, had gone missing
Clashes had been expected at a funeral ceremony for Seyed Ali Mousavi, whose uncle Mir Hossein Mousavi was defeated in hotly disputed elections earlier this year.
Instead police fired teargas to disperse Mousavi supporters who had gathered outside the hospital that his body had been taken to, an Iranian opposition website said.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said that eight people were killed on Sunday in anti-government protests across Iran that erupted during the religious festival of Ashura. Iran’s Health Ministry said that over 60 people had been injured in Tehran, with around 300 people reportedly arrested.
A report on the website of state television put the number of dead as high as 15 and quoted the Ministry of Intelligence that more than 10 were members of “anti-revolutionary terrorist” groups.
The other five who reportedly died during the bitter clashes in the Iranian capital were killed by “terrorist groups,” Iranian TV claimed.
State television said unknown assailants killed Mr Mousavi, 35. A Mousavi ally described his death as martyrdom.
“A group of Mousavi supporters have gathered in front of Ebn-e Sina hospital where his nephew’s body was kept … Police fired teargas to disperse them,” the Norooz website reported.
A moderate website said today the body of Mr Mousavi’s nephew was missing from the hospital.
“We can not hold a funeral until my brother’s body is found,” said another of Mr Mousavi’s nephews said, according to parlemannews. Clashes were expected at the funeral ceremony.
Opposition websites and activists said security forces raided a series of opposition offices today, making at least seven arrests.
The parlemannews site said that three of Mr Moussavi’s top aides were rounded up, including his top adviser, Ali Riza Beheshti.
Security forces also stormed a foundation run by reformist former President Mohammad Khatami and arrested two people, a foundation official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of police reprisal. The Baran Foundation works to promote dialogue between civilisations.
In another move, the former Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and the human rights activist Emad Baghi were arrested, according to the Rah-e-Sabz website. Mr Yazdi, who served as Foreign Minister after the 1979 Islamic revolution, is now leader of the banned but tolerated Freedom Movement of Iran.
The arrests could not be independently confirmed.
Analysts have heralded the start of what could be a bloody endgame after hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters poured on to the streets of Tehran and other cities on Sunday and fought running battles with the security forces. Opposition websites claimed that some policemen had refused to fire on demonstrators.
The United States condemned Iran’s “unjust suppression” of civilians and said it was on the side of protesters.
Foreign journalists have been banned from Iran but Western newsrooms were inundated with mobile telephone footage of astonishing scenes: jubilant demonstrators attacking riot police and Basiji militiamen, protesters gleefully setting light to a police station, Basiji building and motorbikes being captured from the security forces, detained protesters being freed from a police van while colleagues are carried away with blood pouring from gunshot wounds. Dozens were injured and more than 300 arrested. “The gloves are off. There is no question about that,” said one analyst. Ali Ansari, Professor of Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews, said: “No one can now doubt that change is coming.”
A leading opposition activist claimed: “The regime is on borrowed time. The entire country is beginning to rise.”
The demonstrators’ fury was no longer directed solely at President Ahmadinejad, whose alleged theft of the presidential election triggered protests in June, but also at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and embodiment of a theocratic government that has lost legitimacy. Passions were bound to be high because yesterday was not only Ashura, when Shias commemorate the martyrdom in the 7th century of Imam Hossein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, but also the seventh day since the death of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the opposition’s spiritual leader, an important date in Shia mourning rituals. Few predicted quite such fury or aggression.
Opposition websites said that demonstrators broke through cordons, blocked streets to thwart squads of baton-wielding motorbike police, hurled stones, stripped captured police officers of their uniforms and weapons, and burnt state-owned banks. Mobile telephone footage showed them holding aloft captured Basiji crash helmets as onlookers cheered. “People no longer fear,” one activist told The Times.
They compared Ayatollah Khamenei to Yazid, the Sunni caliph who killed Imam Hossein. Film clips showed demonstrators trying to tear down Ayatollah Khamenei’s portrait and trampling on a street sign bearing his name. At least five protesters were shot in Tehran and reportedly four more in Tabriz — one of several other cities that witnessed huge demonstrations. They were the first shootings of demonstrators since June 20, eight days after the disputed election.
The opposition website Rahesabz said that the security forces opened fire on a crowd near Enghelab Square in Tehran after failing to disperse it with teargas, baton charges and warning shots. A witness told The Times: “The person we saw killed was a young man, I am guessing early twenties. He was shot in the head from a rooftop. It happened so quickly that we did not know what happened. A couple of minutes later the Basiji came rushing in and fired teargas and used batons to disperse us and then they took his body.”
It was unclear whether the opposition leader’s nephew, was one of those killed, though he, too, was shot near Enghelab Square. Footage showed him lying on a pavement as blood oozed from his chest.
Another witness told The Times how a middle-aged woman emerged from a cornered crowd and yelled at the police: “Aren’t you ashamed to beat and kill your own people?”
“To our surprise two of them admitted they were ashamed and were doing this only for money. The head of the squad then asked that we go home because he did not want to have to give the order to have us beaten,” the witness said.
Gangs of pro-government vigilantes increasingly appear to be taking the law into their own hands. On Saturday night a group broke up a meeting addressed by Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former president, and attacked nearby offices used by the family of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Leading members of the Khomeini family now support the opposition.
The opposition claims that the unrest is spreading across Iran, and to every social class. It senses victory, but activists fear a bloodbath first. “The security forces, especially the Revolutionary Guards, are prepared to fight until the end as they have nowhere to go,” one member said.
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