Hundreds of thousands supporters of Iran’s regime took to the streets of major cities on Wednesday in a show of force against the opposition which it accuses of being “pawns of the enemies.”
State television showed footage of people swarming downtown areas including Tehran’s Enghelab square, chanting slogans and waving placards in support of the regime as hardliners threatened opposition leaders with prosecution.
“Oh free-willed leader, we are ready, we are ready,” they sang out in reference to the Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The massive rallies were called for by clerics, seminary schools and the armed forces in response to a string of opposition protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed June re-election.
Opposition websites reported some state-owned factories had allocated transport for employees to be taken to the rallies, while traditional bazars were closed for the day in some cities.
Hardliners have reacted angrily after thousands of opposition supporters used the climax on Sunday of Ashura, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest days, to protest, condemning the demonstrations as “desecration.”
“The offensive slogans have made the pious Iranian nation sad and the Zionist world happy, and in practice they as pawns of the enemies have furnished a red carpet for the foreigners who are aiming at the nation’s security,” the government said in a statement.
“The knowledgeable people of Islamic Iran will once again put the lackeys of global oppression in their place and will blind the eyes of sedition,” the statement added.
Public prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie told a closed session of parliament that opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi “are on the wanted list,” ILNA news agency reported, citing MP Hassan Norouzi.
But the opposition have hit out at the authorities for resorting to the use of teargas, batons and eventually live rounds to push back the protestors in the protests on Sunday that turned deadly.
Authorities confirmed eight people died during Sunday’s violence but have rejected opposition charges they were killed by security forces, insisting the deaths were “suspicious.”
Since the clashes, Iran has rounded up scores of opposition figures and dissidents, while several reformist journalists and activists were also arrested, reports said.
Three hundred of the 500 “rioters” arrested by police at the weekend were still in detention, Iran’s police chief Esmaeel Ahmadi Moghaddam said on Wednesday, adding more were detained by other security agencies.
The UN’s human rights chief said she was shocked by the violence in Iran after the crackdown on opposition protesters, and urged Tehran to rein in “excesses by security forces.”
“I am shocked by the upsurge in deaths, injuries and arrests,” Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
“The information available once again suggests excessive acts of violence by security forces and the paramilitary Basij militia.”
President Ahmadinejad on Tuesday slammed foreign interference in Iran, accusing the United States and Israel of staging the weekend demonstrations.
“Americans and Zionists are the sole audience of a play they have commissioned and sold out. A nauseating play is performed,” he added.
On Wednesday, the president said “the heads of the US and some European nations… are repeating their old mistakes” in comments reported by ISNA news agency.
In a warning to anyone planning fresh protests, Ahmadi Moghaddam said his officers would now adopt a policy of zero tolerance.
“The police had tolerated the rioters before Ashura, but now that the rioters have shown their allegiance to movements trying to topple the regime, there will be no more tolerance and they will be dealt with severely,” he said.
Iranian cleric Ayatollah Abbas Vaez Tabasi had on Tuesday branded opposition leaders as “enemies of God” whose punishment under Islamic sharia law was death.
On Wednesday the official IRNA news agency said some MPs and leaders have emphasised that the “prosecution of the heads of the sedition has become a public demand.”
But Iran’s deputy police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, later played down the likelihood of them being arrested, according to a report by Mehr news agency.
“The arrest of the heads of the protests is not on the police agenda. We do not want to give them importance by arresting them,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, opposition website Rahesabz on Wednesday reported that the authorities had ordered the family of Mousavi to hold a quiet funeral for his nephew who was killed during Sunday’s unrest