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Middle East

Dozens arrested in clashes with police

Iranian security forces armed with batons and tear gas clashed with supporters of the late dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in two cities yesterday, opposition websites reported.

One said tear gas and pepper gas were used against people who were gathering for a memorial service planned to take place in a mosque in the city of Isfahan, while another said women and children were among those beaten up.

Some opposition supporters were injured and dozens were arrested, according to the reports, which could not be independently verified. There was no immediate comment from the authorities. If confirmed, the clashes would further highlight escalating tensions six months after a disputed presidential election plunged the Islamic Republic into its deepest internal crisis since it was founded three decades ago.

Police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moqadam warned the pro-reform opposition of "fierce" confrontation if it continued its "illegal" activities, the semi-official Fars news agency said. Montazeri, an architect of the 1979 Islamic revolution, died in the run-up to Ashura on 27 December, a politically important Shia religious commemoration that offers the opposition another opportunity to show its strength.