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Iran's Police Chief Warns Opposition, As Rallies Due

An Iranian opposition supporter gestures during clashes with security forces in Tehran on December 27.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's police chief today warned supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi only to expect harsh treatment if they participate in illegal rallies, three days after eight protesters were killed in protests.

Iranians will stage nationwide rallies today to express their support for the hard-line clerical rulers of the Islamic state, state television reported.

With tens of thousands due to take part in the state-organized demonstrations, supporters of Musavi are also planning to hold fresh rallies, opposition websites reported.

In Iran's bloodiest unrest since the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential election, eight people were killed on December 27 and at least 20 pro-reform figures, including three senior advisers to Musavi, were arrested.

Raising the stakes further in the crisis, a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on December 29 that opposition leaders were "enemies of God" who should be executed under the country's Shari'a law.

"The meeting point in Tehran will be Enqelab Street. Iranians, using various routes, will gather there to show their support to the Supreme Leader," state television said.

On December 29, state TV showed footage of huge pro-government rallies in various cities, with demonstrators carrying pictures of the late founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor Khamenei.

Since the deadly clashes that erupted during the Shi'ite Muslim religious ritual of Ashura, political turmoil has entered a new phase in Iran with the clerical establishment intensifying pressure on the reform movement to end street protests.

Oil prices briefly rose above $79 a barrel to a fresh five-week high on December 29, supported by expectations of colder U.S. weather and concerns over political unrest in Iran.

Iran's police chief said today "there was no more room for tolerance over participants in illegal rallies."

"Those who participate in illegal rallies will be confronted more harshly and the judiciary will confront them more decisively," said Esmail Ahmadi-Moqadam, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Some of the protesters...are considered as mohareb [enemy of God] and will be confronted firmly," he said.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, locked in a row with the West over Iran's nuclear program, said that the opposition rallies on the religious ritual of Ashura was a foreign-backed "nauseating masquerade."