Now Iran turns its fury on Britain

Supreme Leader says leaders of protests should be executed for stoking violence

The Iranian government vented its anger at Britain last night, declaring that London deserved a "punch in the mouth" for its role as the "chief culprit" behind the mass protests sweeping the Islamic Republic.

The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further upped the ante at home, branding senior opposition members "enemies of God" who deserved to be executed. And in what human rights groups and diplomats described as another "ominous development", Iranian police told leading opposition members that they could no longer guarantee their safety outside their homes.

Among those to receive the warning was Mehdi Karroubi, who came fourth in June's disputed presidential election and whose car was smashed up by government supporters at the weekend. His son, Taghi, said his father was effectively under "house arrest".

The office of Iran's Supreme Leader, who possesses ultimate authority in the country, said: "Those who are behind the current sedition in the country ... are mohareb [enemies of God] and the law is very clear about punishment of a mohareb." Under Iran's Islamic law the sentence for mohareb is execution. The influential parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani joined in the call for punitive action, exhorting: "Identify them, arrest them and firmly punish those who insulted religion."

Tens of thousands of supporters loyal to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rallied in the centre of Tehran yesterday, vowing to "sacrifice their lives" and "fight the enemies". In such an incendiary atmosphere, opposition figures say that the official threats from the government are tantamount to a call to violence. Mohammadreza Naqdi, the head of the Basiji militia who led the bloody post-election crackdown, has already been openly vowing retribution against "traitors".

There were reports of fresh clashes between demonstrators and security forces at a Tehran university and in the central city of Shiraz, although these could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, the government continued its raids on the opposition. Security forces have already been accused of targeting family members. The nephew of the opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, who lost the disputed poll to Mr Ahmadinejad, was among eight killed on Sunday, the bloodiest of the past 10 days of protest.

Yesterday Mr Mousavi's brother-in-law, Shapour Kazemi, was detained, and Shirin Ebadi, the human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said that her sister had been arrested in an attempt to silence her. "This arrest is illegal because my sister is a dentist, she is not in any way active in human rights or politics ... and she didn't participate in any protests," Ms Ebadi told French radio. "She is detained for the sake of me."

It remains unclear how many people are now in custody. The opposition website Jaras estimated that more than 900 people had been arrested in marches that began following the death of the senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri on 19 December. The government puts the number between 300 and 400.

With the protests showing no sign of subsiding, the government fell back on its popular line of defence, blaming "Western hands".

"Trying to overthrow the system will reach nowhere... designers of the unrest will soon pay the cost of their insolence," the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement. "The opposition... is backed by foreign enemies."

The British ambassador to Tehran was summoned to the foreign ministry to answer charges of interfering. Iranian anger had been fuelled by Foreign Secretary David Miliband's public condemnation of the crackdown, although Washington, Berlin and Paris have been similarly critical. Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, warned: "Britain will receive a punch on the mouth if it does not stop its nonsense."

The tension between Iran and Western powers is only likely to increase as the end-of-year deadline looms for Tehran to accept a deal to send low-enriched uranium abroad to be converted, and thus prove it is not interested in developing a nuclear weapon. Washington has said it is already considering next steps if the deal fails.

Last night, there were unconfirmed reports that Iran was trying to import 1,350 tonnes of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan in violation of UN sanctions already in place. A summary of an intelligence report, obtained by the Associated Press, said that Tehran was willing to pay $450m for the shipment.

Rising tension: 11 days of protest

*19 December Senior dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, an architect of the 1979 Islamic revolution, dies late at night, aged 87

*21 December Tens of thousands attend his funeral in the holy city of Qom; reports of clashes between opposition supporters and security forces

*23 December More clashes reported in central cities of Isfahan and Najafabad

*26 December Baton-wielding riot police clash with protesters in Tehran

*27 December At least eight dead following anti-government protests, held on seventh day of mourning for Montazeri which coincides with the Shia religious holiday of Ashura. Mousavi's nephew among the dead and opposition says more than 900 people arrested in Tehran and Isfahan

*28 December US President Barack Obama condemns the Iran's "iron fist of brutality" as reports surface of 20 opposition figures being detained.

*29 December Tens of thousands of government supporters rally to demand opposition be punished. President Ahmadinejad condemns opposition demonstrations as a foreign-backed "nauseating masquerade". Tehran summons British ambassador and chastises London.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific