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Iran Says Will Show No Mercy To Opposition Protesters

Protesters and students clash with riot police in Tehran.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran will "show no mercy" towards opposition protesters seen as threatening national security, a judiciary official said today, a day after thousands of students staged antigovernment rallies.

A nationwide rally on December 7 to mark the killing of three students under the shah turned violent when students clashed with security forces armed with batons and tear gas in the largest antigovernment protests in months.

"From now on, we will show no mercy toward anyone who acts against national security. They will be confronted firmly," said prosecutor Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Witnesses said scuffles occurred between students loyal to opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi and others who support hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Tehran universities today.

Reuters could not confirm the report independently because journalists working for foreign media have been banned from leaving their offices from December7 to December 9.

Musavi's website, "Kaleme," said security forces had a heavy presence around Tehran universities. It said Musavi was harassed outside his office today.

"If you want to beat me, threaten me or kill me, go ahead and do your job," Musavi told a group of 30 masked, plainclothes men, "Kaleme" reported. "The men left after a few hours."

The protests were a renewed fresh show of force following demonstrations that erupted after the June reelection of President Ahmadinejad, which the opposition says he won by rigging the vote.

The December 7 protests in Tehran were smaller than the postelection rallies but the mood seemed more radical with protesters chanting slogans against the clerical establishment and not just criticizing Ahmadinejad's reelection.

Analysts say students have formed a bastion of support for opposition leader Musavi.

"Silencing universities will be difficult for the establishment. Ahmadinejad's fate may well hang on them," said one analyst who asked not to be named.

Iranian university students played a major role in toppling the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi 30 years ago and have always been a leading force behind political movements in Iran, both before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

'People Leading Opposition'

A fierce crackdown on antigovernment rallies, sweeping arrests of activists, and harsh sentences imposed on leading reformists, including five death sentences, have so far failed to keep Iranians off the streets or quash the opposition.

"They feel they are being humiliated by the system. As long as the authorities continue to ignore their demands, protests will continue," said the analyst. "Now the people are leading the opposition leaders."

Dozens of people were arrested and several hurt in clashes in different Iranian cities on December 7. The opposition leaders did not attend the rally.

"About 200 demonstrators have been detained in Tehran. Some 39 of them are women," the semi-official ILNA quoted a senior police official as saying.

When Ahmadinejad won the June election with a wide margin, his reformist opponents cried foul and thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the biggest antigovernment demonstrations in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic. The authorities deny any vote-rigging.

Prosecutor Mohseni-Ejei said the authorities had no intention of letting the demonstrations continue.

"Intelligence and security...forces have been ordered not to give any leeway to those who break the law, act against national security and disturb public order," he said.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards and their allied Basij militia, which suppressed postelection unrest, have warned the opposition not to stage rallies against the establishment.

In September and November, opposition demonstrators clashed with government backers during rallies.

Musavi criticized the clerical establishment on December 6 for suppressing students, saying the reform movement was alive despite pressure from the authorities to end it, his "Kaleme" website said.

Thousands were arrested after the election. Most of them have since been freed, but the judiciary continues to impose harsh sentences on arrested reformists, including former senior officials, lawyers, students, and journalists.