Participants in a government-sponsored rally in Tehran have called for Iran's two main opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, to be executed.
Thousands of worshippers and regime supporters gathered in Tehran's Enghelab Square immediately after Friday Prayers to counter opposition activists, who this week staged their first sizeable street protests in months.
Similar rallies are also taking place in other Iranian cities, state television reported.
Iranian authorities earlier appealed to supporters to stage antiopposition rallies and "scream out their hatred, wrath, and disgust" against what they called "sedition" leaders.
Iranian state TV showed large crowds moving toward the square immediately after Friday Prayers. Men and women were shown carrying placards and portraits of supreme leaders past and present, and chanting slogans against the United States and Israel.
Calls For Execution
During a Friday Prayer sermon ahead of the rally, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a hard-line cleric and chairman of the Guardians Council, called for the two opposition leaders to be completely isolated.
"I tell these sedition leaders: 'your life is over,'" Jannati said. "There are calls for these men to be executed. But they are already finished. They have already been executed. They have failed. Their reputation within society has been tarnished."
Jannati, who led Friday Prayers in Tehran today, said the judiciary should block the opposition leaders' lines of communication by locking them inside their homes and cutting off their phone and Internet.
Both Musavi and Karrubi have been under house arrest for several days. Today the website kalame.com, which is close to Musavi, reported that government security guards have replaced the bodyguards of the former prime minister. The website says all of Musavi's bodyguards have been dismissed.
It quotes eyewitnesses as saying that a car has blocked the one-way street leading to Musavi's house. The new guards, which the site says are from the prosecutor's office, reportedly are wearing masks and closely monitoring people who approach the house, and in some cases have interrogated them.
Representatives of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and mosque imams in different provinces joined calls to punish Musavi and Karrubi following the antigovernment protest on February 14.
Two students were killed in the course of that demonstration, and many more injured.
Opposition activists and students say the two men, Mohammad Mokhtari, 22, and Sanee Zhaleh, 27, were shot dead by security forces. State media, however, claim Zhaleh was a loyal member of the Basij volunteer militia, and that he was killed by opposition protesters.
Opposition activists have denied the claim and accused the authorities of "hijacking" their martyr.
Iranian lawmakers on February 15 demanded Musavi and Karrubi be prosecuted and face execution by hanging for their roles in organizing rallies.
The state prosecutor's office has said the judiciary will "firmly and swiftly" deal with those behind the antigovernment protests.
The chief of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, said this week that the body was taking steps against Musavi and Karrubi. Larijani said the judiciary -- while taking "Islamic compassion" into consideration -- "will not tolerate acts that intend to harm the Islamic establishment."
Defying all the pressure, opposition leaders have called for fresh street protests on February 20.
In a statement emailed to RFE/RL, a group of students from Tehran's Azad University say they will participate in Sunday's rally.
The statement said, "The wind of freedom is blowing in the Middle East and it's freshness can already be felt in Iran."
The students said the death of two youths in the February 14 protest have made them even more determined in their cause.
written by Farangis Najibullah and Hassan Nia Arash, from Radio Farda and agency reports