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Middle East

Iranian opposition leader shot at by pro-government demonstrators

Pro-government demonstrators opened fire on the car of an Iranian opposition leader shattering its windows, his website reported yesterday. Sahamnews said the shooting happened late on Thursday while the former presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi was leaving a building in Qazvin, 90 miles west of Tehran.

The report added that about 500 people had been demonstrating outside the building where Mr Karroubi had been staying for the past day. The site described the demonstrators as armed and said police were unable to disperse them.

Mr Karroubi ran in June's disputed elections that reformists say was won fraudulently by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Unrest followed Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election and clashes between security forces and opposition supporters resumed late last month, killing at least eight people.

The assault on Mr Karroubi, however, represents a rare armed attack on a leading opposition figure. In 1999, the pro-reform politician Saeed Hajjarian was shot in the face and paralysed. The latest attack is an indication that the political turmoil rocking the country could be slipping out of the government's control.

Last month's bloodshed was the worst since the riots after the disputed June election. In a pro-government demonstration in late December, protesters called for the execution of Mr Karroubi and his fellow opposition leader, Mirhossein Mousavi.

Yesterday, the senior cleric Kazem Sedighi appeared to give tacit permission for people to take matters into their own hands if the authorities failed to silence opposition figures. "I am concerned that people will lose patience if the legal apparatus does not conduct its affairs in a timely manner," he said at Friday prayers in the capital.