Gunfire Heard as Vigilantes Attack Iran Protesters
By Jon Hemming
Reuters journalist Jon Hemming said more than 100 of the Islamic militiamen, who wear no uniforms, swooped on a group of a few dozen youngsters protesting around a bonfire in a side street not far from the Tehran University dormitory which has been the focal point of demonstrations.
"They piled out of pick-up trucks and off motorbikes. Most were armed with sticks and chains but a few had Kalashnikovs," he said.
"I heard automatic gunfire but I couldn't see where it was coming from or what it was aimed at."
The youths had been throwing stones and chanting slogans including "Death to Khamenei," a reference to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has blamed Iran's arch-foe the United States for stirring up unrest in the country.
Washington, which labels Iran a member of an "axis of evil" along with North Korea (news - web sites) and Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s Iraq (news - web sites), and accuses it of building nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism, has welcomed the protests which have drawn up to 3,000 people on previous nights.
In a tense atmosphere in central Tehran, Islamic militiamen, mostly belonging to the hard-line Ansar-e Hizbollah group, manned checkpoints and looked carefully into vehicles which were circling the streets around the university campus.
"They pulled some people out of their cars and beat them with their fists and sticks. Even young girls were beaten," a photographer at the scene said.
"I've seen at least 10 injured people. One man had a knife wound," he added.
Khamenei, who has the last word on all matters of state in Iran, had called Thursday on vigilante groups such as Ansar and the Basij volunteer force linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards "not to enter the scene."
Influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Friday struck a conciliatory tone during a Friday Prayers sermon, saying police had been ordered not to take "brutal action" against protesters.
"It's all right for some young people to be angry and they have to say some things and we shouldn't be very sensitive about that," he said.
While venting most of their anger at unelected clerics who wield ultimate power in Iran, the protesters have also lambasted moderate President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites), who they accuse of failing to deliver promised reforms after six years in power.
Analysts say the protests, while small, reflect widespread frustration among Iran's mainly young population and are likely to continue in the run-up to the July 9 anniversary of violent student protests in 1999.
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Reuter - Saturday June 14, 2003
Over Night to the dawn
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Automatic gunfire was heard in the Iranian capital early Saturday as hundreds of Iranian pro-clergy militiamen, some armed with Kalashnikov rifles, attacked groups of people protesting against clerical rule.
In the most serious violence since pro-democracy demonstrations started four days ago, witnesses also reported seeing riot police and hard-line vigilantes pulling young women out of cars and beating them with sticks.
Courtesy of Reuter- news
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arson the theatre!