December 31, 2009 in Nation/World

Iran demonstrators back government

Ramin Mostaghim And Borzou Daragahi Los Angeles Times

A demonstrator holds a poster of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a Wednesday rally in Tehran.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

TEHRAN, Iran – Tens of thousands of Iranians backing the country’s rulers rallied in central Tehran on Wednesday, calling for the death of anti-government protesters and opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Clad in black and holding portraits of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the government supporters chanted slogans for the Islamic Republic and against its opponents. “Death to Mousavi!” they chanted. “Death to opponents of velayet faqih,” a reference to Iran’s theocratic political system.

The gathering came as Mousavi attended a solemn burial ceremony for his nephew, who was shot to death during weekend riots.

The rally was in response to a weekend of large-scale anti-government unrest coinciding with the religious holiday of Ashoura. Iranian officials condemned the earlier protest as part of a foreign-backed plot to weaken the Islamic Republic.

“We are convinced that the unrest that took place on Ashoura was planned by anti-revolutionaries and these agents used the opportunity to reveal their true identity,” Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said during a cabinet meeting, according to the news Web site Tabnak. “Key individuals have been arrested.”

Still, rowdy protests broke out Wednesday on campuses in the Tehran suburb of Shahriar and in the eastern city of Mashhad, where armed militiamen allegedly attacked students, injuring at least 10, according to reformist Web sites.

Iran’s leaders have long been masters of gathering huge crowds for pro-government demonstrations. Amid an ongoing crackdown on opposition supporters and dissidents, authorities encouraged employees of government offices and state-owned businesses to attend the 3 p.m. rally.

Public schools were told to dispatch students to the event. The manager of a state-owned Tehran cement plant flatly ordered staff to attend, according to one employee. Authorities established free shuttle buses and waived subway entrance fees to draw crowds.

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