Friday, July 17, 2009

Tehran's streets erupt after a key cleric speaks


Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's harsh rebuke of Ahmadinejad supporters is followed by renewed violence, suggesting the discontent over recent election results is as strong as ever.

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut -- Security forces fired tear gas and plainclothes militiamen armed with batons charged at crowds of protesters gathered near Tehran University after a Friday prayer sermon delivered by the cleric and opposition supporter Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, his first appearance at the nation's weekly keynote sermon since before the election.

Rafsanjani, in a closely watched speech, lashed out at the hard-line camp supporting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticized the June 12 election results and promoted several key opposition demands. However, he failed to offer a solution to what has emerged as Iran's worst political crisis in decades.

His inconclusive speech and the Muslim Sabbath clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi that followed suggested the political firestorm unleashed by the marred vote would continue and that the movement it had inspired was as strong as ever.

"We could have taken our best step in the history of the Islamic revolution had the election not faced problems," he told worshipers in and around Tehran University. "We are in doubt today. Today, we are living bitter conditions due to what happened after the announcement of the election result. All of us have suffered. We need unity more than any time else."

Even before Rafsanjani's speech began, security forces were stuffing young men into waiting police vans. Helmeted Basiji militiamen aboard motorcycles began pushing forward.

After the speech, downtown Tehran erupted in violence .....

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