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Iran Makes Arrests Over Torn Khomeini Picture

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, standing in front of a portrait of the late founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has arrested several people over the tearing up of a picture of the Islamic republic's late founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during antigovernment protests in Tehran last week, a senior official said today.

The detentions were announced a day after Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a stern warning to the pro-reform opposition, accusing it of violating the law by insulting the memory of late revolutionary leader Khomeini.

"Those people who were at the site [of insulting Khomeini] have all been identified," Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadai told reporters, according to ISNA news agency.

He said arrests had been made, including one on the day of the December 7 student rallies, without giving names or numbers.

"They are all in detention and one of them has confessed," Jafari Dolatabadi added.

The prosecutor also said there would be "no mercy towards those who insulted the founder of the revolution," the official IRNA news agency reported. Khomeini spearheaded the 1979 Islamic Revolution and remains revered in Iran. He died in 1989.

Tension has increased in Iran since student backers of opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi a week ago clashed with security forces armed with batons and tear gas in the largest such antigovernment demonstration in months.

State television has broadcast footage of what it said were opposition supporters tearing up and trampling on a picture of Khomeini during the protests.

The opposition has accused the authorities of planning to use the reported "desecration" of Khomeini's picture as a pretext for measures to uproot the reform movement.

On December 13, some moderate websites suggested Musavi, who came second in a disputed June election which plunged the Islamic state into turmoil, may be arrested.

Jafari Dolatabadi said, according to IRNA: "If some people think that they have some supporters and that they will not be summoned [by the judiciary], it would be wrong thinking."