By Chip Cummins
December 30, 2009
Plainclothes Militia Beat Students on Campus as They Prepare to Commemorate Sunday Victims
DUBAI — Tens of thousands of supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime flocked to a series of pro-government rallies Wednesday in Tehran and across Iran, as government officials hardened warnings to opposition protesters that the regime won’t tolerate more demonstrations.
The rallies appeared mostly peaceful. Opposition supporters — who for more than six months have sporadically demonstrated and clashed with security services — stayed off the streets. Pro-government militia, however, beat students, some badly, at Mashhad University in northeastern Iran, according to a student-run Web site and one eyewitness.
Plainclothes militia entered the campus and chanted slogans in support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They then attacked students preparing to commemorate victims of clashes Sunday between protesters and security forces, according to the Web site and the eyewitness. “They attacked us, and they beat everybody they could,” said a student who observed the incident.
In Tehran, throngs of government supporters coursed through the streets in images broadcast live by Iranian state TV. Crowds waved banners and colorful flags, some with pictures of Mr. Khamenei.
The rallies follow several days of increasingly stark warnings by government and security-service officials against opposition protests, after bloody clashes between demonstrators and authorities Sunday.
On Wednesday, Iran’s police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam warned “the tolerance period with anarchists and troublemakers is over,” according to the official IRNA news agency.
WSJ’s Chip Cummins talks with Dow Jones’s Mike Reid and Simon Constable about the escalating tensions over Iran’s crackdown on protestors, in the News Hub.Later in the day, IRNA said two senior opposition leaders had fled Tehran, sowing speculation that Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi had been forced to flee or had been detained. Opposition Web sites, citing people close to the two men, quickly denied the report.
The pro-government rallies follow a tumultuous week of opposition protests that culminated Sunday, when anti-regime demonstrators rallied in Tehran and across Iran on the Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashura. Opposition Web sites reported a heavy-handed crackdown by police.
The official death toll from Sunday’s clashes stands at eight, though opposition Web sites have recorded much higher numbers. Iranian security forces have denied they were involved in any of those killings but have said the deaths are under investigation.
Upheaval in Iran
Follow major protests and other events since the June election.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has regularly used state-sponsored rallies to bolster support. Officially organized buses transported groups of schoolchildren, civil servants and supporters from outlying rural areas to the protests, the Associated Press reported.
The Tehran metro said transportation would be free of charge Wednesday, according to state media. Opposition sites also posted what purported to be a government directive calling for state-owned companies to encourage employees to attend the pro-government rallies. It wasn’t possible to immediately verify the authenticity of the directive.
Also Wednesday, Iranian state media said authorities have made progress in an investigation into the death of Mr. Mousavi’s nephew, who officials now say was run over by a vehicle in what they describe as an assassination attempt. An official quoted by Press TV, the state-backed English-language outlet, said authorities had located and arrested the owner of the car believed to have killed Seyyed Ali Mousavi.
State media had reported authorities had seized the nephew’s body earlier in the week as part of its investigation. An opposition Web site reported the body was buried Wednesday.
Separately Wednesday, Tehran denied news reports that the country is close to a deal to secretly import 1,350 metric tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to Agence France-Presse.
—Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this article.
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