Police grip Iran riot city

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The Independent Online
TEHRAN - Police imposed a virtual state of siege on the riot-torn Iranian city of Qazvin yesterday although gunfire could still be heard. Four banks and 12 shops were ransacked and 20 people have been held since the riots erupted on Wednesday over the city's demand to become a province.

'Policemen are every 20 metres in the main streets. They stop and question people and check cars,' a businessman in Qazvin, 90 miles north-west of Tehran, said by telephone. He said that up to 13 people were said to have been shot dead and 80 wounded.

Residents reported more widespread damage, including several government offices being set on fire, since riots swept Qazvin after parliament rejected a bill to separate it from Zanjan province.

At prayers yesterday, Hadi Barikbin, the city's top religious authority, urged Qazvinis to isolate 'opportunist elements' whose actions 'have tarred the image of the beautiful city of Qazvin', the Iranian news agency Irna said.

Becoming an independent province would boost Qazvin's influence and provide more jobs in administration and more direct access to the Tehran power centre.

Qazvinis said their demands stemmed from ethnic differences with Zanjanis - the former are Persians, the latter Azeris - and perceived preferential treatment given to Zanjan since before the 1979 Islamic revolution.