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Iran: Sixth Night Of Political Protests In Tehran

Tehran, 16 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Political protests have taken place for a sixth night in a row in the Iranian capital, Tehran, as cars are reported to have clogged the streets near the University of Tehran, the focal point of the protests against the country's clerical leaders. Dozens of hard-line Islamic militants -- some reportedly carrying Kalashnikov rifles -- walked between the cars, stopping and searching some and threatening any drivers who honked their horns in a sign of support for the protests.

Yesterday, police warned the vigilantes -- who are loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- from taking the law into their own hands. The vigilantes have attacked demonstrators with chains, knives, and clubs.

The student news agency ISNA also reported that hundreds took to the streets in the eastern city of Mashad in antigovernment rallies there.

U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday said the protests were a "positive development." The U.S. has linked Iran as part of an "axis of evil" bent on developing nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry yesterday accused the U.S. of "flagrant interference in Iran's internal affairs," and said U.S. officials were overstating the significance of the events.

In another development, more than 250 prominent Iranian dissidents wrote an open letter yesterday accusing Iran's clergy of setting themselves in the place of God.