Protesters forced away from Ahmadinejad ceremony

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Hundreds of protesters were beaten back by police today as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term as Iran's president.

The ceremony came less than two months after a disputed election triggered massive street protests, split Iran's clerical leadership and brought attacks from within his own conservative camp over mistreatment of detained opposition activists.

In streets near parliament, security forces using batons dispersed protesters who chanted "Death to the Dictator".

Some wore black T-shirts in a sign of grief and others wore green - the colour of the opposition movement. A middle-aged woman carried a banner warning Iran's leaders if they do not listen to people's demands, they will face the same fate as the Shah, who was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The opposition had called for demonstrations to coincide with the inauguration and a number of its key leaders - and all three of Mr Ahmadinejad's election challengers - boycotted the swearing in ceremony in parliament.

In his inaugural address, Mr Ahmadinejad seemed to tone down his rhetoric and emphasised his plans to improve the faltering economy. He demanded that Iran be on an equal footing with other world powers, denounced foreign interference and said other governments must be held accountable for their actions.

The government has accused the US and the West of backing the street protests.

"We must play a key role in the management of the world," Mr Ahmadinejad said. "We will not remain silent. We will not tolerate disrespect, interference and insults," he added. "I will spare no effort to safeguard the frontiers of Iran."

He mentioned the election crisis only in passing, without direct reference to the opposition or the huge street protests and clashes since the vote. The opposition claims Mr Ahmadinejad was re-elected by fraud and pro-reform leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was the true winner.

Mr Ahmadinejad said the Iranian people were the main winners of the vote and foreign enemies stirred up "plenty of dust" that clouded the issue.

"They raised many questions on it and tried to portray a dark future," he said.

In an apparent warning to demonstrators, he said his government would "resist any violation of law and interference."

But he also urged unity.

"We should join hands as we move forward to fulfil our goals," he said.

In contrast to past inauguration ceremonies, former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami were absent. They are two of the most powerful supporters of the opposition. Mr Mousavi and another pro-reform defeated presidential candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, also stayed away.

The only other conservative candidate in the election, Mohsen Rezaei, also was absent. Mr Rezaei, once commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, has been the most outspoken critic of Mr Ahmadinejad and the election from within the president's own conservative camp.