Riot Police use Tear Gas to Halt Protest in Iran

CAIRO (AP) - Riot police cracked down anew on demonstrators in
Iran's capital on Monday hours after the feared Revolutionary Guard
threatened to crush any further post-election protests. A witness
described an "air of sadness" marked by people wailing prayers
into the night.

Security forces used tear gas and fired live bullets in the air
to break up a group of about 200 protesters paying tribute to a
young woman whose apparent shooting death was captured on video and
circulated around the world.

The show of force came as the country's highest electoral
authority, the Guardian Council, acknowledged some irregularities
in 50 districts - including more votes being cast than registered
voters. But the council insisted the result of the June 12
presidential election was not affected.

The Guards' threat of "revolutionary confrontation" if the
protests persist was another signal the regime is taking a
zero-tolerance approach to Iran's worst civil unrest since the 1979
Islamic Revolution.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered opposition
supporters on Friday to halt their marches and respect the election
outcome, saying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won a resounding
victory.

Iran says at least 17 protesters have died in a week of unrest,
including at least 10 killed in confrontations the day after
Khamenei's speech.

Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has alleged
widespread and systematic fraud, issued his own challenge Sunday,
telling supporters: "The country belongs to you ... Protesting
against lies and fraud is your right."

Severe restrictions on reporters have made it almost impossible
to independently verify reports on demonstrations, clashes and
casualties. Iran has ordered reporters for international news
agencies to stay in their offices, barring them from reporting on
the streets.

In a statement on its Web site Monday, the Revolutionary Guard
ordered demonstrators to "end the sabotage and rioting," calling
the protests a "conspiracy" against Iran. It told demonstrators
to "be prepared for ... revolutionary confrontation with the
Guards, Basij and other security forces and disciplinary forces"
if rallies continue. The Basij, a plainclothes militia under the
Guard's command, has been blamed for some of the protesters'
deaths.

Despite the warnings, some 200 people heeded a call on
Persian-language blogs and Twitter feeds to rally Monday at
Tehran's Haft-e-tir Square in memory of Neda Agha Soltan, the young
woman shown on video as she apparently bled to death, and other
"martyrs."

Witnesses told The Associated Press that helicopters hovered
overhead as riot police fired live rounds and lobbed tear gas to
break up the gathering.

Security forces ordered people to keep walking and prevented
even small groups from gathering - at one point taking the
extraordinary step of separating couples who emerged from a subway
station, the witnesses said. They asked not to be identified for
fear of government reprisals.

An Iranian woman who lives in Tehran said there was a heavy
police and security presence.

"There is a massive, massive, massive police presence," she
told the AP in Cairo by telephone, speaking on condition of
anonymity because she was worried about government reprisals.
"Their presence was really intimidating."

"What you see is nothing (compared) to what is really
happening," said the woman. "People are very, very despondent.
There is an air of sadness around."

At night, she added, cries of "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is
great!" echo through Tehran, saying that was "the only way that
they are able to express themselves."

The government has intensified a crackdown on independent media
- expelling a BBC correspondent, suspending the Dubai-based network
Al-Arabiya and detaining at least two local journalists for U.S.
magazines.

Britain, accused by Iran of fomenting post-election unrest, said
Monday it was evacuating the families of diplomats and other
officials based in Iran - the first country to do so.

President Barack Obama defended his cautious approach with
Iran's leadership, and the White House said he was "moved" by
televised images of the protests. But Republicans continued
pressing him for a stronger response.

An analysis of Iran's official election results released by the
Chatham House think tank in London revealed anomalies that it said
cast doubt on Ahmadinejad's victory.

Compared with the 2005 election, the outcome in a third of
Iran's provinces would require that Ahmadinejad received support
from all former centrist voters, all new voters and almost half of
all former reformist voters. Chatham House called that an unlikely
scenario.

Mousavi, who wants the election results annulled and a new vote
held, vowed to keep up the rallies in defiance of Khamenei, who
holds ultimate power in Iran. On his Web site Monday, he called on
supporters to turn on their car lights as a sign of protest and
warned of danger ahead.

Although Mousavi pledged to stand by the protesters "at all
times," he said he would "never allow anybody's life to be
endangered because of my actions" and called for pursuing fraud
claims through an independent board.

Mousavi's ally, ex-president Mohammad Khatami, meanwhile, said
in a statement that "protest in a civil manner and avoiding
disturbances in the definite right of the people and all must
respect that."

Mousavi, a former prime minister, is a longtime supporter of the
Islamic government and was himself labeled a hard-liner during the
1979 revolution. Reflecting his divided loyalties, he called the
Basij and security forces "our brothers" and "protectors of our
revolution and regime" - a possible attempt to make sure his
supporters don't go overboard and challenge the essence of Iran's
system of limited democracy constrained by Shiite clerics.

For nearly every Iranian - even those who were not yet born in
1979 - the Islamic Revolution is a watershed moment for the
nation's psyche. Its supporters see it as Iran's break from foreign
dominance and the dawn of its self-declared role as the world's
champion of Islam. Yet others, including the many who fled the
country, see it ushering in an era of clerical rule that brought
international isolation and stifled freedoms at home.

Mousavi represents a middle ground. He supports the Islamic
system but claims the early aspirations of the revolution - for
elected officials to set the tone and clerics in a more advisory
capacity - have been hijacked by leaders who put their will over
the people's.

"Mousavi wants to change the system, but he doesn't want to
overthrow the system. He wants to make it more flexible and more
responsive to the people," said Ali Nader, an Iran specialist for
the RAND Corp. think tank.

He said the Guard's crackdown threat was no surprise.

"They won't let these protests grow - this was the way the shah
was brought down" in 1979, Nader said. But, he added: "Even if
the protests peter out, you can expect a strong opposition movement
in Iran."

The Guard, too, may be treading cautiously, Nader said. "If
they do crack down too harshly, they risk their legitimacy and
popular support," he said.


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