Cleric's funeral breathes life into Iran's protest movement

Clashes with security forces as huge crowds turn out to mourn religious leader who supported reform

The funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the eminent cleric and champion of reform, turned into a mass protest in Iran yesterday as the vast crowd chanted slogans against the government and clashed on the streets with security forces.

The mourners, who reportedly numbered up to a million, had come out to observe a "national day of sorrow". They were on the streets of Qom at the urging of defeated presidential candidates Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in highly contentious elections earlier this year. Despite the authorities' efforts to limit attendance, reformist website Jaras reported mourners beating their chests and shouting: "Innocent Montazeri, your path will be continued even if the dictator should rain bullets on our heads." Reuters reported that tear gas had been released and shots fired near the city's main shrine.

The death of the 87-year-old Grand Ayatollah, who had become a trenchant critic of the ruling hardliners, has put the Iranian regime in a difficult position, caught between acknowledging his status as a patriarch of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and minimising his more recent criticism of the current leadership. State-controlled television carried only brief reports on the funeral, leaving out his official title of Grand Ayatollah, and a number of liberal publications, including the newspaper Parlemannews, were banned from attending.

Meanwhile, the ministry of culture and islamic guidance instructed news outlets to stress Mr Montazeri's discord with the late Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. Foreign news organisations were barred from visiting Qom.

A number of political activists claimed they had been contacted by the secret service and warned against making the journey. Nervertheless, streams of people, including entire families, were reported to have flocked to attend from across the country and the main road from the capital Tehran to Qom was blocked for hours due to heavy traffic, with a large crowd gathering outside the Ayatollah's home, where his body lay in a glass coffin. A large contingent of riot police were deployed in adjoining roads which were blocked off.

The protests still have the potential to swell as next Sunday –the seventh day of the traditional mourning period for the Grand Ayatollah – coincides with the ceremony to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hossein at Karbala,a highly emotive day in Shia Islam.

The authorities have stated that they wanted the crowd to have largely dispersed by then and warned against holding political rallies on the day. But those who went to Qom yesterday showed little interest in acquiescing. Reports emerged of stone-throwing mourners fighting with riot police when they started surrounding the Grand Ayatollah's home and members of the pro-government Basij militia tore down banners.

According to the conservative Ayande website, the Basij militiamen shouted: "Shame on you hypocrites, leave the city of Qom," while the mourners chanted back: "What happened to the oil money? It went to the Basijis."

Footage broadcast on the internet showed crowds chanting against Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling him a "murderer" and declaring his rule illegitimate. Opposition groups said a number of activists had been arrested. There were also disturbances elsewhere in the country.

In the months since Iran's disputed presidential elections in June, Mr Montazeri had issued stinging denunciations of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, saying that the Islamic republic was neither Islamic nor a republic, and that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, had lost his legitimacy. Two weeks ago, he said that the Basij militia, which has brutally suppressed opposition street rallies, was forsaking the "path of God" for the "path of Satan".

The Grand Ayatollah, who was suffering from poor health, died in his sleep. He was one of the early backers of Ayatollah Khomeini and was once designated to succeed him. But the two fell out over Iran's human rights record a few months before Khomeini died of cancer in 1989. In 1997 he clashed with Ayatollah Khamenei, whom he outranked in the religious hierarchy, after questioning his powers and the punitive measures he was taking against liberals.

Mr Khamenei offered condolences after the death of his rival, praising him as a as an outstanding jurist. However, he also referred to Mr Monatazeri's falling out with Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, saying he hoped God would forgive him for failing his "crucial test".

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Arts and Entertainment
Ella Henderson's first studio album has gone straight to the top of the charts
music
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Life and Style
fashion
News
Paul Nuttall, left, is seen as one of Ukip's key weapons in selling the party to the North of England
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand labelled 'left-wing commie scum' by Fox News
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
Arts and Entertainment
artKaren Wright tours the fair and wishes she had £11m to spare
News
i100
Life and Style
Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh been invited to take part in Women Fashion Power, a new exhibition that celebrates the way women's fashion has changed in relation to their growing power and equality over the past 150 years
fashionKirsty and Camila swap secrets about how to dress for success
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

Year 5/6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Permanent Year 6 TeacherThe job:This...

KS1 & KS2 Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: KS1+KS2 Teachers required ASAP for l...

Year 2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 2 Teacher The position is to wo...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past