Iranian security forces used water cannon, batons and tear gas in clashes with protesters in Tehran yesterday after crowds demanding fresh presidential elections gathered in defiance of government and police warnings. Eyewitnesses described fierce clashes near Revolution Square in central Tehran after some 3,000 protesters chanted "Death to the dictator!" and "Death to Khamenei".
Running battles erupted in Tehran's streets after security forces sought to prevent demonstrators from gathering in large numbers. One witness said supporters of the defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi set on fire a building in southern Tehran used by backers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The witness also said police fired into the air to disperse rival supporters in Tehran's South Karegar street.
Elsewhere in Tehran, several witnesses reported live ammunition being fired. Last night growing evidence was emerging that scores of demonstrators had been killed or wounded. Eyewitness reports and graphic video and phone camera footage captured killings and carnage on Tehran's streets as protesters and security forces clashed. Reporting restrictions made it difficult to independently confirm many of the claims but the weight and detail of many of the accounts on internet sites such as Twitter or YouTube lent credibility to the claims.
Witnesses said 2,000 to 3,000 people yesterday attempted to gather in Tehran's Revolution Square, far fewer than the hundreds of thousands involved in earlier rallies. It was the culmination of a week of protests that has seen the most widespread expression of anti-government feeling since the 1979 revolution.
Iran's highest legislative body yesterday said it was ready to recount a random 10 per cent of the votes cast in the 12 June poll to meet the complaints of Mr Mousavi and two other candidates who lost to Mr Ahmadinejad. "Although the Guardian Council is not legally obliged we are ready to recount 10 per cent of the boxes randomly in the presence of representatives of the three [defeated] candidates," a council spokesman said.
The recount offer followed the results of the presidential poll which gave President Ahmadinejad 63 per cent of votes, compared with 34 per cent for Mr Mousavi, his nearest rival.
In a letter to the Guardian Council, Mr Mousavi, whose supporters have staged vast unauthorised rallies in the past week, demanded the election be annulled. He claimed planning for the election rigging was arranged months ahead of the vote. "These irritating measures [rigging] were planned months ahead of the vote ... Considering all the violations, the election should be annulled." In the letter, Mr Mousavi lists several allegations of fraud. Speaking at an impromptu rally in southern Tehran last night, Mr Mousavi told a crowd of his supporters that he was "ready for martyrdom". He called on his supporters to stage a national strike if he is arrested.
As reports of clashes in Tehran's streets emerged, the English-language state TV reported a suicide bomb attack at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini. The reports said one person, believed to be the bomber, had been killed and eight others injured. Any attack on the shrine is likely to stir outrage among Iranians who revere the Shia cleric who led the 1979 revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah. Mousavi supporters urged caution over the bombing, claiming state TV reported the blast before the bomb went off.
Iranian state TV later confirmed police had used batons and other non-lethal weapons against what it called unauthorised demonstrations. General Ismail Ahmadi Moghadam said: "We acted with leniency but I think from today on, we should resume law and confront more seriously. The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable. I want them to take police cautions seriously because we will definitely show a serious confrontation against those who violate rules."
Witnesses said between 50 and 60 protesters were seriously beaten by police and pro-government militia and taken to Imam Khomeini hospital in central Tehran. People could be seen dragging away those injured by baton strikes. Later, witnesses reported that police were arresting and removing injured protesters from hospitals. To avoid this the injured were later taken to foreign embassies in the Iranian capital for treatment.
Some protesters appeared to be fighting back, setting fire to militia members' motorcycles in streets near Freedom Square, witnesses said. Helicopters hovered over central Tehran. Several witnesses reported that some of the helicopters sprayed crowds with water which may have contained chemical agents that caused skin irritation and blisters.
Tehran University was cordoned off by police and militia while students inside the university chanted "death to the dictator", witnesses said. Police and militia barred people from entering Freedom Street, which runs from Freedom Square to Revolution Square, to prevent a massive gathering.
The clashes followed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's warning to opposition leaders on Friday to end the protests or be held responsible for any "bloodshed and chaos" to come.
Eyewitnesses said that thousands of police and plainclothes militia members filled the streets to prevent rallies. Fire trucks and riot police took up positions in Revolution Square and Freedom Square and other sites of recent clashes.
Tehran province police chief Ahmad Reza Radan had earlier warned: "Police forces will crack down on any gathering or protest rally being planned by some people." State television said the country's highest national security body had ordered security forces to deal with the situation.
In his speech, Ayatollah Khamenei sided firmly with President Ahmadinejad, saying the result reflected the popular will. Experts said the speech effectively ended Mr Mousavi's demands for a new election.
US President Barack Obama condemned the crackdown: "We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people," he said last night. "The universal rights to free speech and assembly must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights."
In a sign of defiance, Mr Mousavi's backers again took to Tehran rooftops after nightfall to shout Allahu Akbar (God is great), a deliberate echo of tactics used in the 1979 revolution to undermine the Shah's rule.
Iran's presidential election: A week of protest and bloodshed
Friday 12 June Polling day. Iranian polls are kept open for an extra four hours to cope with the huge turnout in the presidential elections, which reaches a record 85 per cent.
Saturday 13 June Iranian state media declare Ahmadinejad the victor with 66 per cent of the vote. Mousavi denounces the result as a "dangerous charade" which could lead to "tyranny". Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the election result must be respected. Crowds take to the streets of Tehran and thousands of Mousavi supporters clash with police.
Sunday 14 June Protests grow in size and violence as Tehran witnesses its worst unrest in a decade. Protests spread to other major cities. More than 100 leading reformists are arrested and internet sites and mobile phones are blocked. Ahmadinejad says the election was free and cannot be questioned. Mousavi formally appeals.
Monday 15 June Iranian authorities ban a march by Mousavi's supporters, but security forces do not intervene when a crowd of more than a million gathers in Tehran. Seven people are killed when the pro-government Basiji militia fires into the crowd as its barracks come under attack. Supreme Leader announces an investigation into allegations of vote fraud.
Tuesday 16 June Iran's Guardian Council, the highest legislative body, says it will recount part of the vote but rules out an annulment. More protests on the streets of Tehran. Foreign journalists are banned from reporting on Tehran's streets and some must leave the country as their visas expire. Allegations emerge of a raid on dormitories at Tehran University by militia, with four students reportedly killed. Thousands hold a pro-Ahmadinejad rally.
Wednesday 17 June Thousands again take to the streets. The Interior Ministry orders an investigation into the attack on Tehran University. Five members of the Iranian football team wear green armbands to show support for Mousavi during their World Cup qualifier against South Korea. The armbands are removed at half time. International human rights groups claim leading protesters and politicians have been arrested.
Thursday 18 June The Guardian Council says it is examining 646 complaints. Hundreds of thousands again gather in Tehran to mourn those who died on Monday.
Friday 19 June Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei addresses the nation. He warns of a crackdown if street protests continue. He says the 11 million vote victory margin shows there had been no fraud and the election was a "definite victory". Google brings forward release of its Farsi translation tool in response to events.
A musician from Tehran told the IoS:
"Near Azadi Square there was a group of almost 1000 people and in front of them were lots of riot police and basijis. We chanted slogans for about 5 minutes suddenly they shot tear gas and ran towards us. We ran away but they caught up and beat us - men nd women - with batons and chains, really badly. I was beaten about 20 times in my foot and arms.
I heard some people have been shot. In Towhid Sq. a friend was hit by batons in the head and he's now in hospital. I don't know if the western governments are going to just sit there and watch us being hit and killed or if they will actually make a difference."
"If this goes on I don't think there will be more demonstrations in coming days. Today they showed a really brutal force and we Iranians know that they will do even worse because the are capable of that. There won't be mass demonstrations unless Mr.Moosavi or Karroobi come into streets themselves. That will make it different. But as for now I think they have silenced people.