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Iranian government under mounting pressure from protests

In the latest round of protests, demonstrators have moved beyond questioning the outcome of June's presidential election and are now posing a direct challenge to the government. After nationwide protests on Monday that continued on Tuesday, Iran's chief prosecutor warned demonstrators that no more anti-government protests would be tolerated. 'So far, we have shown restraint. From today no leniency will be applied,' Gholam Hossein Mohsen Ejeie said.

After nationwide protests on Monday that continued on Tuesday, Iran's chief prosecutor warned demonstrators that no more anti-government protests would be tolerated. "So far, we have shown restraint. From today no leniency will be applied," Gholam Hossein Mohsen Ejeie said. "Monday's demonstrations were not only the biggest in weeks but more radical in tone, with students openly denouncing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," The Times reported. "There were violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces bearing batons, tear gas and stun guns. More than 200 'rioters', including 39 women, were arrested, according to Tehran's police chief. "Mr Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, another opposition leader, were reportedly prevented from joining the demonstrations. Mr Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, joined demonstrators at the University of Tehran but was attacked with pepper spray. "The clashes at the university spilled into a second day yesterday, against a backdrop of international condemnation. France called the violent suppression of the protests 'unacceptable'. The US denounced what it described as the 'continued harassment, arbitrary detention, and conviction of individuals'. "With even bigger demonstrations planned for the festival of Ashura this month, the regime is searching for news ways of ending them." The National said: "Pressure on the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who staunchly refuses to accept the results of the June presidential elections that brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power for a second presidential term, mounted yesterday, one day after nationwide protests against the government. "As students and other protesters chanted anti-government slogans in and outside universities in Tehran and cities throughout the country during National Students' Day rallies on Monday, Iran's prosecutor general, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, told reporters he would put a petition signed by 100 hardline legislators to put Mr Mousavi on trial on the agenda of the Mohammad Jafari Dowlatabadi, the prosecutor general of Tehran, Iranian Labour News Agency reported." The Los Angeles Times said: "On Tuesday, plainclothes security personnel on motorcycles surrounded the downtown office of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who dared them to act. " 'You are officers,' he told them, according to his website, Kalamehnews.com. 'If your mission is to kill, beat or threaten me, go ahead.' "The security personnel eventually dispersed." The Times added: "Mr Mousavi, the former Prime Minister, has become the rallying point of anti-government protesters since he was defeated by President Ahmadinejad in an allegedly fraudulent election in June. The regime appears to be stepping up the pressure on him to call off the six months of protests and civil disobedience. "Violence on the streets of Tehran continued today with supporters of Mr Mousavi clashing with hardliners at the prestigious Tehran University. "The official government news agency described skirmishes on the campus. IRNA reported 'rioters wearing green wristbands' gathered from early in the day in front of the university's engineering college to protest against yesterday's crackdown on protesters. "A confrontation ensued between the protesters and what the news agency described as pro-government students, resulting in the 'breaking of glass and firing of tear gas'. "Earlier 30 to 40 plain-clothed motorcyclists, almost certainly members of the hard-line Basiji militia, surrounded the Academy of Fine Arts in Tehran where Mr Mousavi works. They blocked the entrances and shouted insults at him before dispersing. "As Mr Mousavi was holed up at the academy, Iran's chief prosecutor told journalists that he could be charged and hauled before a court. 'I declare that from today there will be no tolerance,' Gholam Hossein Mohsen said." In an editorial, The National noted the historical antecedents to the current protests. "When students marched on Tehran University in 1953 to protest the overthrow of Mohammad Mossaddegh, their chants were directed at the tyranny of foreign power. 'Iran's oil is ours' and 'death to the Shah' they shouted, protesting the arrival of the then US vice-president Richard M Nixon, whose government had helped to replace Iran's elected leader and install the autocratic rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. "Fifty-six years to the day, students gathering at the same campus once again chanted against tyranny, but this time, there was no external government to blame. Indeed, even as the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his coterie of hardliners struggle to pin the blame of Iran's post-election unrest onto foreign powers such as Britain and the United States, the accusations of protesters remain firmly rooted in the disappointment they have with their own government." "In a calm but defiant interview with ABC News, Iranian human rights activist and 2003 Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi said the current Iranian regime has 'no popular base'. 'I promise you, this regime will not last,' she said. Pressed as to how a largely a popular protest movement can challenge a regime which seemingly has all the cards - police, military, basij paramilitaries, Revolutionary Guards - she said the movement is becoming more widespread despite the crackdown, spreading from Tehran to other cities. She said political backing from prominent religious leaders adds strength, and that while political leaders such as Mirhossein Mousavi have been largely quiet, 'the real leaders are the people.' "Ebadi Asked about the international community's renewed push for economic sanctions against the regime, Ebadi said sanctions will 'harm the people and will not bring about the collapse of the regime', explaining that the regime will use sanctions as a pretext crack down further. (She also opposes a military attack for the same reasons.) Her preferred remedy: that the US and the West express 'verbal support only' for the opposition and seek to stop weapons sales to the government." Meanwhile, The Guardian reported: "Human rights abuses in Iran are now as bad as at any time in the past 20 years, Amnesty International reports tomorrow in a survey marking six months since June's disputed presidential election. "Amnesty documents 'patterns of abuse' by the Basiji militia and revolutionary guards involving beatings, rape, death threats, forced confessions, intimidation and official cover-ups. Many detainees have been subjected to show trials and five have been sentenced to death. " 'The authorities have resorted to exceptionally high levels of violence and arbitrary measures to stifle protest and dissent,' says the 80-page report. 'The courts have not been an instrument of justice to hold police, security forces and other state officials to account ... or to protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and religion.' "According to official figures, 36 people died in violence after the election, but the opposition puts the figure at more than 70. At least 4,000 people were arrested after the poll on 12 June and some 200 remain in jail."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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