Saturday, February 19, 2011

Students in Iran Clash at Funeral

The Lede Blog: Latest Updates on Middle East Protests (February 16, 2011) The clashes erupted at Tehran University during the funeral of Saane Zhaleh, one of two students reported killed during protests on Monday.

Images on the Web site of the state broadcaster IRIB showed a throng of people surrounding a coffin, wrapped in the green, white and red Iranian flag, as it was carried above the heads of the crowd. But the opposition Kaleme Web site said the university's arts campus had been taken over by pro-government forces who beat and arrested anti-government students.

The contest to claim Mr. Zhaleh as a martyr reflected divisions that seemed to have emerged once more into the open following the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The authorities said Mr. Zhaleh, a Kurdish student, was a Basij, one of the student vigilantes on many campuses, who was shot by a government opponent. Opposition accounts said plainclothes security officers roaming the streets beat him to death and claimed that he had joined the antigovernment protest.

With the fighting on Wednesday both sides seemed to be seeking to claim him as one of their own.

"Students and the people attending the funeral ceremony of the martyred student Saane Zhaleh have clashed with a limited number of people apparently linked to the sedition movement and forced them out by chanting slogans of death to hypocrites," IRIB's Web site was quoted as saying.

The protests on Monday in Tehran and other cities were taken by the opposition as a sign that it has resurfaced after the huge crackdown on its followers following Iran's disputed presidential election in 2009.

But on Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed opposition attempts to revive mass demonstrations as doomed to fail, while members of the Iranian Parliament clamored for the two most prominent leaders of the protest movement to be executed.

Critics have called in the past for the two men, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, to be prosecuted for alleged crimes that would carry the death penalty. The calls for punishment on Tuesday, however, appeared to be the most strident yet, with members of Parliament shouting in unison, "Moussavi, Karroubi should be hanged!"

But while the government has tried and convicted many opposition members since large street protests in 2009, it has so far shied away from putting the two men on trial, perhaps fearing that would lead to further unrest.

On Wednesday, Mr. Karroubi's Web site reported that the house of his eldest son, Hossein Karroubi, had been raided and damaged by security officers seeking to arrest him.

The government tried to squelch reports about the Monday demonstrations, arresting or sequestering critics on Tuesday and revoking the working credentials of about a dozen foreign correspondents who had been ordered not to cover the protests.

Opposition supporters were elated about the demonstrations, saying they felt people's willingness to come out despite beatings by the police proved that the antigovernment movement born after Mr. Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election was still alive after 20 months of brutal government suppression.

The friends I talked to in Iran were so happy that people had shown up after months of nothing going on," said Sadra M. Shahab, who helped spread the word about the demonstrations from overseas.

Mr. Karroubi, who has been under house arrest since the eve of the protests, said Tuesday that "the government should take the cotton out of its ears and hear the voice of the people," according to a statement posted on Saham News, his Web site.

"Violent and aggressive actions in response to the will of the people can halt continuing protests up to a point," he said, addressing the government, "but you should learn from the history of the governments that have fled." He was referring to the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, who were recently driven out by street protests.

Mr. Karroubi did not mention any future plans, and it is unclear if the opposition has a clear idea of what to do next. Organizers of a special Facebook page dedicated to the protests in Iran said the authorities would never allow Iranian demonstrators to set up the type of permanent encampment that came to represent the tenacity of the Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo as they called for Hosni Mubarak to leave.

There were reports at least two people died in the protests in Iran on Monday. Few reporters were able to cover the demonstrations, but witness accounts and some news reports suggested that perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 people took to the streets in several cities, including Tehran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, in a live interview on state television, pursued the government line that such demonstrations were foreign attempts to undermine a great nation, according to reports by the official news agency, IRNA

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