Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clashes Around Iran's Parliament

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press Writer Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press Writer –

CAIRO – Protesters and riot police clashed in the streets around Iran's parliament Wednesday as hundreds of people converged on a Tehran square in defiance of government orders to halt demonstrations demanding a new presidential election, witnesses said.

Security forces appeared to vastly outnumber the demonstrators, and they beat protesters gathered on Baharestan Square with batons and fired tear gas canisters and rounds of ammunition into the air, witnesses told The Associated Press. They said some demonstrators fought back while others fled to another Tehran plaza, Sepah Square, about a mile (2 kilometers) to the north.

A helicopter could be seen hovering over central Tehran, where a witness told the AP that the area was swarming with hundreds of riot police who were trying to prevent people from gathering even briefly. Thousands more security officers filled the surrounding streets, said the witness, who declined to give his name for fear of government reprisals.

"There was a lot of police — riot police and Basiji everywhere," a 53-year-old housewife said, referring to Iran's volunteer militia corps. She said police stopped her and others from entering the square.

Severe restrictions on reporters have made it almost impossible to independently verify reports on demonstrations, clashes and casualties. Iran has ordered journalists for international news agencies to stay in their offices, barring them from reporting on the streets.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's refusal earlier Wednesday to bow to demands from protesters effectively closed the door to any compromise with the opposition.

The wife of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was defiant, saying protesters refused to buckle under a situation she compared to martial law.

Mousavi's official Web site had said a protest was planned outside parliament. But the site distanced him from the action, calling it independent and saying it had not been organized by the reformist candidate.

Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a former university dean who campaigned beside him, said on another of his Web sites that his followers had the constitutional right to protest and the government should not deal with them "as if martial law has been imposed in the streets."

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