Iran police arrest mourners in cemetery memorial

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The Independent Online

Iranian police arrested mourners who gathered at a Tehran cemetery to commemorate victims of the unrest that followed the country's disputed June presidential election, witnesses said today.





The police forced Mirhossein Mousavi, a defeated candidate at the election, to leave the cemetery.



"Hundreds have gathered around Neda Agha-Soltan's grave to mourn her death and other victims' deaths ... police arrested some of them ... dozens of riot police also arrived and are trying to disperse the crowd," a witness told Reuters.



Later the witness said: "Police forced Mousavi to return to his car and leave the cemetery. Police also are warning mourners to leave the place or face the consequences."



Opposition leaders had said they would attend the ceremony, defying a threat by Revolutionary Guards to break up the gathering.



"(Defeated candidates) Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi will go to Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery today to commemorate Neda Agha-Soltan and other victims of the unrest," said Ghalamnews, Mousavi's website.



Defying the clerical establishment's ban on any such ceremony, Mousavi and Karoubi had accepted the invitation of Neda's mother to mark the 40th day since her death and remember other victims of the unrest at Neda's grave.



Neda, a 26-year-old music student, was shot on June 20, when supporters of Mousavi clashed with riot police and Basij militiamen in Tehran. Footage of her death has been watched by thousands on the Internet.



Authorities have said Neda was not shot by a bullet used by Iranian security forces, suggesting the incident was staged to blacken the image of the clerical establishment.



When Mousavi arrived at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, mourners clung to his car, chanting 'Mousavi we support you', the witness said.



Iranian media have reported the deaths of several other protesters following the vote. Rights groups say hundreds of people, including senior pro-reform politicians, journalists, activists and lawyers, have been detained since the election.



The head of Tehran's Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Abdollah Araghi, had warned against any gathering.



"We are not joking. We will confront those who want to fight against the clerical establishment," said Araghi, according to the semi-official Fars news agency on Wednesday.







Iranian authorities had turned down a request by opposition leaders to hold a memorial ceremony for the unrest victims on Thursday at Tehran's Grand Mosala, a prayer location where tens of thousands can gather.



The presidential vote plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and exposed deepening divisions in its ruling elite.



Mousavi and Karoubi say the June 12 vote was rigged in favour of re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.



Some hardline clerics support Ahmadinejad, but other senior Shi'ite figures, including Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, have attacked the way the authorities have handled the poll and its aftermath.



"I am warning the authorities again to act before the current crisis deepens," Montazeri said in a statement published by the Etemad-e Melli website. Montazeri has called for national mourning for those killed in the unrest.



Ahmadinejad is under pressure from his hardline supporters over his initial choice of vice-president and his decision to dismiss a hardline intelligence minister who criticised the president for defying Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.



Khamenei endorsed the election result and sided openly with Ahmadinejad, but ordered Ahmadinejad to drop his nomination of Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie as his deputy. Mashaie had said Iran had no quarrel with Israelis, only their government.



For a week Ahmadinejad ignored Khamenei's order. The disarray in the hardline camp is likely to complicate Ahmadinejad's job of forming a new cabinet.



The hardline Ya Lesarat weekly made an unusually blunt comment on the affair, directed at Ahmadinejad.



"Your adopted measures in recent weeks have surprised your supporters," it said. "If such moves continue, we will strongly urge you to give back our votes."

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