Iran regime counters protests with mass rallies

Buses bring tens of thousands to city centres in show of official strength

Ali Akbar Dareini
Thursday 31 December 2009 01:00 GMT

Tens of thousands of hardline government supporters turned out for state-sponsored rallies yesterday, some of them calling for the execution of opposition leaders as Iran's police chief threatened to show "no mercy" in crushing any new protests by the pro-reform movement.

Amid the pro-government fervour, Iran's official news agency reported that the top two opposition leaders had fled the capital, Tehran. But a close relative of one of the men, Mehdi Karroubi, told the Associated Press that the report by the Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna) was wrong and that Karroubi and the opposition leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, were both at their homes in Tehran. The relative spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Pro-government rallies were staged in Shiraz, Arak, Qom and Tehran, among other cities. Demonstrators at a rally in Tehran chanted "Death to Mousavi". Some shouted "Rioter hypocrites must be executed" and held up a banner that read: "We sacrifice our blood for [our] supreme leader."

The government gave all civil servants and employees a day off to attend the rallies and organised buses to transport groups of schoolchildren and supporters from outlying rural areas to the protests.

The hardline cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda called opponents of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supporters of Satan.

"Enemies of the leader, according to the Koran, belong to the party of Satan," Mr Alamolhoda told demonstrators in Tehran in comments broadcast on television. "Our war in the world is war against the opponents of the rule of the Supreme Leader."

Separately, the police chief, General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, warned protesters to stay off the streets or face harsh consequences. At least eight people were killed in street violence on Sunday, Iran's worst unrest since the aftermath of the disputed presidential election on 12 June.

"In dealing with previous protests, police showed leniency. But given that these opponents are seeking to topple [the ruling system], there will be no mercy," General Moghaddam said, according to Irna. "We will take severe action. The era of tolerance is over. Anyone attending such rallies will be crushed."

One of those killed on Sunday was a nephew of Mr Mousavi's. Iran's deputy police chief said Ali Mousavi was assassinated by unidentified assailants and not by security forces.

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