In clashes in Tehran on Sunday in which "both sides appeared far more aggressive than in other demonstrations of recent months," at least four protesters were killed, including the nephew of 2009 presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, the Times of London reported.[1]  --  "The demonstrators broke through cordons, blocked streets to thwart motorbike charges by basij militiamen, set alight cars and motorbikes belonging to the militia, caught police officers, and stripped them of their uniforms and arms, according to opposition websites," Martin Fletcher said.  --  "Large protests were also said to be taking place in Shiraz, Isfahan, and other cities."  --  "The regime took down much of the mobile phone network, slowed internet services to a crawl, and banned most foreign journalists from Iran, making corroboration very difficult."  --  Like the *TImes*, the Finanical Times of London emphasized that the opposition is now protesting the regime, not the presidential election:  "There were hardly any slogans on Sunday against the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad.  Rather Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader who has sided with the fundamentalist president and has the last say in state affairs, was the main target."[2]  --  "'This month is the month of blood, Yazid [i.e. the illegitimate ruler] will be overthrown,' was one of the top slogans," Najmeh Bozorgmehr said.  --  The Washington Post spoke of "tens of thousands of demonstrators."[3]  --  So did the Los Angeles Times, which described "massive and fiery morning-to-dusk protests."[4]  --  "Enghelab Street . . . emerged as the epicenter of the day's clashes," said Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim.  --  "Reformist websites and witnesses also reported clashes in the cities of Qom, Esfahan, Najafabad, Kashan, Shiraz, Babol, and Mashhad."  --  One witness "described Tehran as a war zone, and another likened the situation to open 'civil war' as increasingly bold demonstrators took on security forces, in one case stripping a member of the security forces naked before letting him go." ...

1.

World news

Middle East news

MIR HOSSEIN MOUSAVI'S NEPHEW 'KILLED' IN TEHRAN CLASHES

By Martin Fletcher

Times
(London)
December 27, 2009

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6968798.ece


At least four Iranian protesters were reported to have been shot dead in Tehran today -- including a nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi -- during the fiercest protests in the capital since the immediate aftermath of June’s hotly disputed presidential election.

The shootings mean that the confrontation between the so-called Green movement and the regime has entered a dangerous and volatile new stage, with the security forces prepared to use lethal force in an increasingly desperate effort to crush a resurgent and emboldened opposition.

A close aide to Mr. Mousavi, the former Prime Minister defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June election, said that his 35-year-old nephew, Ali Mousavi, died in a Tehran hospital after being shot in the chest near Enghelab Square.  A reliable opposition website, Parlemannews, also reported his death.

Details of the shootings were sparse, but one of the dead was said to be an elderly man and another a young woman, both killed when the security forces opened fire on the huge crowds of protesters that had gathered in central Tehran for the emotionally charged Shia festival of Ashura.

A photograph posted on the internet showed a man with blood pouring from head wounds being dragged away by opposition supporters.  Two other demonstrators were reportedly wounded.  The shootings of the protesters were the first since June 20.

Another opposition website, Rahesabz, said that the security forces opened fire after failing to disperse the crowds with tear gas, charges by baton-wielding officers, and warning shots fired into the air.

"Three of our compatriots were martyred and two were injured in clashes.  The reporter who was on the scene said these three were directly shot at by military forces," the website reported.  It said the shootings clashes occurred near Enghelab street.

Rahesabz said that a fourth protester was later killed near the junctions of Vali Asr and Enghelab streets.  "The people are carrying the body of this martyr and are shouting slogans," it said.

However, one opposition website, Jaras, claimed that some police officers were refusing orders to shoot at protesters.  "Some of them try to shoot into air when pressured by their commanders," it said.

Ashura commemorates the 7th-century martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, at the hands of the Sunni caliph Yazid.

Today also marks the seventh day since the death of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the opposition’s spiritual leader, which is an important day in Shia mourning tradition.

That coincidence served to heighten passions, and both sides appeared far more aggressive than in other demonstrations of recent months.

The security forces used tear gas, batons, chains, as well as live fire while helicopters hovered overhead.  Thousands of government supporters staged counter-demonstrations.

During clashes on Saturday, government supporters disrupted a speech that the reformist former President Mohammad Khatami was due to address, and attacked nearby offices used by the family of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, the founder of the Islamic Republic.  Leading members of the family support the opposition.

The demonstrators broke through cordons, blocked streets to thwart motorbike charges by basij militiamen, set alight cars and motorbikes belonging to the militia, caught police officers and stripped them of their uniforms and arms, according to opposition websites.

They chanted slogans comparing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, to the caliph Yazid, an act that was unthinkable until recently, and showed how the protests are no longer against the disputed election but the regime itself.  “Yazid will be overthrown," "Hussein, Hussein is our slogan.  Being a martyr is our pride,” and “Khameini is a murderer -- his rule is doomed,” they chanted.

Large protests were also said to be taking place in Shiraz, Isfahan, and other cities.  Last Monday, the holy city of Qom was convulsed by a huge demonstration to commemorate Montazeri.  Opposition activists claim that the unrest is spreading both geographically across Iran, and socially to classes that previously supported President Ahmadinejad.

The regime took down much of the mobile phone network, slowed internet services to a crawl, and banned most foreign journalists from Iran, making corroboration very difficult.

2.

Iran

SHOTS FIRED AS IRAN PROTESTS INTENSIFY

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr

Financial Times
(London)
December 27, 2009

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ffeb88d2-f2db-11de-a888-00144feab49a.html

TEHRAN -- Central Tehran turned into a rare conflict zone on Sunday when security forces clashed with hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters.

The opposition used Ashura, the day that Hossein, the third Imam of Shias and the grandson of prophet Mohammad, was killed in the 7th century.

Demonstrators marched a 10km stretch from Imam Hossein Square in eastern Tehran toward Azadi Square in the western end.  They held victory signs and wore green wristbands and scarves, the symbolic color of the opposition.  Streets leading to the main route were also packed, according to eyewitnesses.

Police used tear gas, batons, and gun shots in the air to disperse the crowd.  Parliamentnews.ir, a reformist news website, said the 20-year-old nephew of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the opposition leader, was among the dead.

The report could not be independently confirmed and a senior Iranian police official had earlier denied the report of deaths.

Security forces were in control of the central Tehran in the afternoon with protesters largely dispersed.  Ruins of some motorcycles and cars, broken windows, and fences were still visible in the streets.

The Sunday rally was the biggest since June 20, the bloodiest day when at least 10 people were killed.  After that incident protest numbers shrank from hundreds of thousands to thousands.

The street protests started after the disputed presidential election on June 12.  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed victory in a “landslide”. Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the top reformist candidate and now the opposition leader, rejected the results as fraudulent.

There were hardly any slogans on Sunday against the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad.  Rather Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader who has sided with the fundamentalist president and has the last say in state affairs, was the main target.

“Death to the dictator,” “Death to Khamenei,” and “God is Great” were among the slogans of the opposition.

Demonstrators also threw stones at armed security forces, a lesson they have learnt from Palestinians in their fight against Israelis.

The reason Ashura was chosen for another major rally is partly because of the philosophy of Shia Muslims, who commemorate it as the day “blood won over sword” and Imam Hossein fought against injustice in his time.  He was killed by Yazid, the ruler at the time.

“This month is the month of blood, Yazid will be overthrown,” was one of the top slogans.

Using Ashura against rulers was also experienced during the Islamic Revolution as the opposition has borrowed many slogans and symbols of its fight against the Shah 30 years ago.

“The uprising of Imam Hossein was because he wanted to give his life for freedom and he fought with those who wanted to rule over their society under the name of religion while depriving people of their freedom,” said Mohammad Khatami, former reformist president, on Saturday evening.  This was his last sentence before his opponents broke the windows and did not allow him to continue.

Mr. Khatami’s speech was at Jamaran, where the household of late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of 1979 revolution, still live and have indirectly backed the opposition.  Thousands of people gathered outside Jamaran on Saturday night and chanted anti-regime slogans.

Meanwhile, the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, the most senior dissident cleric last Sunday, fuelled the unrest and has since then led to demonstrations in Tehran, the holy city of Qom, Isfahan, and Najafabad, his birthplace which is close to Isfahan.

There were also unconfirmed reports of tensions in Isfahan and Najafabad on Sunday.

Some demonstrators in Tehran carried pictures of Mr Montazeri.  “Montazeri, the victim, your path will be continued,” they chanted.

3.

World

Middle East

Iran

ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS TURN DEADLY IN IRAN

By Thomas Erdbrink

Washington Post

December 27, 2009

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/27/AR2009122700544.html?hpid=topnews


TEHRAN -- Security forces opened fire at crowds demonstrating against the government in the capital on Sunday, killing at least four people, including the nephew of opposition political leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, witnesses and Web sites linked to the opposition said.

"Ali Mousavi, 32, was shot in the heart at the Enghelab square. He became a martyr," the Rah-e Sabz Website reported.

In the heaviest clashes in months, fierce battles erupted as tens of thousands of demonstrators tried to gather on a main Tehran avenue, with people setting up roadblocks and throwing stones at members of special forces under the command of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.  They in turn threw dozens of teargas and stun grenades, but failed in pushing back crowds, who shouted slogans against the government, witnesses reported.

A witness reported seeing at least four people shot in the central Vali-e Asr Square.  "I saw a riot cop opening fire, using a handgun," the witness said.  "A girl was hit in the shoulders, three other men in their stomachs and legs.  It was total chaos."

Fights were also reported in the cities of Isfahan and Najafabad in central Iran.

The protests coincided with Ashura, one of the most intense religious holidays for Shiite Muslims.  The slogans were mainly aimed at the top leaders of the Islamic Republic, a further sign that the opposition movement against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed June election victory is turning against the leadership of the country.

At the Yadegar overpass, protesters shouted slogans such as "Death to the dictator" and "long live Mousavi."  They fought running battles with security forces until a car filled with members of the paramilitary Basij brigade drove at high speed though the makeshift barriers of stones and sandbags that the protesters had erected.

About a dozen members of the Revolutionary Guards fired paintball bullets, teargas, and stun grenades.  When reinforcements arrived, they managed to push back the hundreds of protesters gathered at the crossing.

Similar scenes could be seen at several crossings of the central Azadi and Enghelab streets, witnesses reported.  Large clouds of black bellowing smoke rose up as people honked their cars in protests.

"This is a month of blood.  The dictator will fall," people shouted, referring to the mourning month of Muharram.  Young men erected a flag symbolizing the struggle of the Shiite's third Imam Hussein, whose death was commemorated Sunday.

On Saturday, security forces clad in black clashed with protesters in northern Tehran after a speech by opposition leader and former president Mohammad Khatami.  After the police intervened, thousands of protesters fanned out through the area.

The roads were clogged with cars, many honking their horns in support of the protesters.  About 50 armed government supporters attacked a building used as an office by the household of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, according to witnesses and the Parlemannews Web site, which is critical of the government.

"There are so many people on the streets, I am amazed," a member of the riot police said to his colleagues as he rested on his motorcycle in a north Tehran square.  Two women in traditional black chadors flashed victory signs to passing cars, egging them on to honk in support of the opposition.

Earlier, hundreds of police officers supported by dozens of members of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and the paramilitary Basij force clashed with small groups of protesters along Enghelab (Revolution) Street, one of the capital's main thoroughfares, at times beating people in an effort to disperse them.

The protests, which followed anti-government demonstrations in other Iranian cities in recent days, come as Iran observes the 10 days of Muharram, a mourning period for Imam Hussein, the Shiite saint whose death in the 7th century sealed the rift between Sunni and Shiite Muslims over the succession of the prophet Muhammad.  On Sunday, Shiites worldwide commemorate the day of his death during Ashura.

--Special Correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie contributed to this report.


4.

U.S. & world

Middle East

DEATHS REPORTED AMID CHAOS AND VIOLENCE IN IRAN

By Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim

Los Angeles Times

December 27, 2009

TEHRAN and BEIRUT --
The Iranian capital erupted in massive and fiery morning-to-dusk protests today as tens of thousands of demonstrators clashed with security forces on the occasion of an important Shiite Muslim holiday.

Several witnesses told the Times that Iranian security forces opened fire with live ammunition against unarmed protesters near College Bridge in in the capital.  And opposition news websites reported that several protesters had been killed, including Ali Mousavi, the adult nephew of opposition figurehead Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Reformist websites said he was shot and taken to a Tehran hospital, where his uncle and other relatives soon arrived.

The information could not be independently confirmed, and a police source denied that protesters had been killed in a comment to the pro-government Fars News Agency.

But a witness in front of City Theater in downtown Tehran said she saw a fallen man, apparently stabbed in the back, and spotted another man falling to the ground after a volley of shots was fired near Enghelab Street, which emerged as the epicenter of the day's clashes.

The reports of deaths came during a harrowing day of multiple, rolling clashes between police and Iranian protesters coinciding with an important Ashura religious commemoration as well as the significant seventh day of mourning following the death of the country's leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

Reformist websites and witnesses also reported clashes in the cities of Qom, Esfahan, Najafabad, Kashan, Shiraz, Babol, and Mashhad.

Demonstrators vowed to continue the protests into the night, with reformist news websites identifying key Tehran squares for gatherings.

"There is no let-up," said Farzad, a 30-year-old who attended today's protests with his girlfriend.  "We will go ahead until we topple the government."

Across the capital, witnesses described scenes of pandemonium, which were confirmed by video footage posted online.  One described Tehran as a war zone, and another likened the situation to open "civil war" as increasingly bold demonstrators took on security forces, in one case stripping a member of the security forces naked before letting him go, a witness said.

Despite a heavy crackdown, the protest movement that emerged from Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election has grown increasingly daring, with those who want abolition of the Islamic Republic increasingly vocal.

Protesters had vowed for weeks to turn today's annual Ashura commemoration marking the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad, into an anti-government demonstration.

The green-themed protest movement sought to meld its cry of injustice with the emotionally powerful narrative of Imam Hussein, whom Shiites believe was unjustly robbed of his throne as the leader of the faithful when he was cut down in battle by the Yazid on the fields outside Karbala, in what is now southern Iraq.

"This is a month of blood," they chanted.  "Yazid will be defeated!"  "We will fight, we will die, we will get our country back!" the protesters yelled out, holding ribbons of green.

Black plumes of smoke could be seen rising from downtown Tehran.  Video posted online showed protesters beating pro-government militiamen as their motorcycles burned in the background.  Helicopters hovered in the skies.

Protesters built fires in trash cans to ward off the effects of tear gas.  Witnesses described running street battles between plainclothes and uniformed security officers and demonstrators, some throwing stones, in more than a dozen Tehran localities.

At Enghelab Square, a police car was set ablaze, and protesters set fire to motorcycles belonging to riot police in various locales.

The wail of ambulance sirens could be heard all over the city.  Car horns honked on expressways as motorists created traffic jams in an effort to prevent security forces from moving freely.  Drivers on nearby streets leaned on their horns and flashed "V" hand signs despite the heavy presence of police deployed around main squares.  Passengers on buses could be heard chanting slogans.

"Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein!" they chanted in support of opposition figurehead Mousavi.

Around Vali Asr intersection, police fired tear-gas canisters in an attempt to disperse thousands of protesters shouting "Death to the dictator" and "Today is a day of mourning."

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Mostaghim is a special correspondent.