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Detentions After Azeri Rights Chants Disrupt Iran Rally

TABRIZ -- Four people have been arrested in northeastern Iran after they allegedly disrupted a government-organized rally with chants demanding rights for Azeri speakers and criticizing an Internet video that purportedly shows ex-President Mohammad Khatami belittling ethnic Azeris, witnesses told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

The detainees were said to include Tabriz University professor Alirza Farshi, although that information could not be independently confirmed.

It was unclear from eyewitness reports exactly how many individuals were part of the disruption, which came during a gathering in Tabriz to mark the anniversary of the recapturing of the city of Khoramshar from Iraqi forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

More than 300,000 people gathered for the officially sanctioned event, according to official Iranian media.

The incident comes on the third anniversary of a protest in 2006 of ethnic Azeris were outraged by a cartoon in an official newspaper that showed a cockroach speaking Azeri language.

Aside from the language demand, the protesters were critical of a YouTube video that purports to show Khatami, a reformist former president who initially signaled a desire to challenge incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the coming June election before pulling out of the race, making a joke about ethnic Azeris.

Ethnic Azeris comprise Iran's largest minority.