x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Iranian police block visit to protesters' graves

Iranian riot police armed with batons and belts clash with mourners staging a defiant graveside commemoration for protesters killed in post-election violence, witnesses say.

Iranian riot police armed with batons and belts clashed with mourners staging a defiant graveside commemoration today for protesters killed in post-election violence, witnesses said. It was the first major violence between security forces and demonstrators in three weeks in Iran, where tensions are still running high over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election last month. Some of the estimated 2,000 people at the cemetery hurled stones at police and chanted slogans in support of main opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi who was forced to leave just minutes after his arrival, while police were surrounding fellow reformist Mehdi Karroubi, witnesses said.

"Today is a mourning day. Loyal Iranians are the mourners today," shouted the crowds at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery south of Tehran. Mourners were marking the religiously significant 40th day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who came to symbolise the public protests over Mr Ahmadinejad's June 12 victory. Police who numbered around 150 used sticks, batons and belts against the crowds and arrested several mourners as Mousavi turned up, the witness said. "Mousavi was however not allowed to recite the Koran verses said on such occasions and he was immediately surrounded by anti-riot police who led him to his car," a witness said as people chanted "Ya Hossein! Mir Hossein!".

Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi, who have waged a defiant protest campaign since losing to Ahmadinejad in what they brand a rigged election, had announced they would visit the cemetery after authorities banned another memorial ceremony. Witnesses said dozens of policemen were also at the Grand Mosalla in Tehran, a venue used for religious functions where the opposition had planned to hold the ceremony. A graphic internet video of Neda bleeding to death on a Tehran street on June 20 was seen around the world and triggered an outcry over the Iranian crackdown on demonstrators. About 40 people, wearing green wristbands and T-shirts - the signature colour of Mousavi's election campaign -- were earlier seen standing around Neda's grave which was decorated with candles and flowers.

Mr Mousavi, a prime minister in the post-revolution years who was Mr Ahmadinejad's main challenger, has consistently refused to acknowledge his rival's victory, and said it was a "shameful fraud". Hundreds of thousands of people poured on to the streets of Tehran after the election result and Iranian officials have said in the ensuing violence about 30 people were killed, scores wounded and several thousand arrested. *AFP