Iran Guards stop opposition leader from joining rally

Islamist militiamen attacked home of Mehdi Karroubi for 2nd night in a row.

Tehran: Islamist militiamen and elite Revolutionary Guards surrounded the home of Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi on Friday to prevent him from joining a government-sponsored rally that last year saw opposition protests, his website said.

At the Quds (Jerusalem) Day Palestinian solidarity march in Tehran last year, supporters of Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi staged demonstrations against hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government.

"As of 8:00 am (0330 GMT) today, Basijis (militiamen) and Sepahi (Guards) gathered in front of Karroubi`s home," the website said.

"The aim of these people is to prevent him from participating in the Quds Day rally."

During the morning, dozens of people on motorcycles surrounded the whole neighbourhood, virtually cutting it off from the rest of the capital, the website added.

The fresh siege of Karroubi`s home came after several Basijis, some carrying guns, attacked his residential building late on Thursday for a second night in a row and seriously wounded his chief bodyguard.

"Armed Basijis attacked Mr Karroubi`s house and got inside the building after smashing down the door. The guards were obliged to fire in the air," the opposition leader`s website said.

"The attackers opened fire and threw Molotov cocktails at the building," it said, adding: "Mr Karroubi`s chief bodyguard was badly beaten up and had to be taken to hospital."

The website later reported that the bodyguard was in a coma.

"Landline connections to Mehdi Karroubi`s residential building have been cut since last night. There has been no telephone contact with him practically since then," it added.

The website said that the assault on Karroubi`s house, which began shortly before midnight (1930 GMT) on Thursday, only ended when special forces arrived on the scene.

The website said on Wednesday that the militiamen had been gathering in front of Karroubi`s home since Sunday to prevent him from making any plans for Friday`s solidarity rally.

Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iran has organised pro-Palestinian marches on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

But last year, the opposition used such government-sponsored rallies to organise protests against Ahmadinejad`s controversial re-election that June.

Both Karroubi and Mousavi have remained steadfast in rejecting the official results of the election which they say were massively rigged.

Their opposition to Ahmadinejad has deeply divided Iran`s ruling clergy.

This year`s nationwide solidarity rallies came just a day after Israel and the Palestinians relaunched direct peace talks in Washington ending a 20-month hiatus.

Shouting "Death to America! Death to Israel!", tens of thousands of Iranians poured on to city streets around the country.

Several demonstrators carried caricatures of US President Barack Obama, while others hoisted banners saying "Quds (Jerusalem) is Ours" and urging a ban on firms doing business with Iran`s arch-foe, Israel.

"Inshallah. One day we will pray in Quds," said state television`s news anchor as he introduced coverage of the march.

Later on Friday, Ahmadinejad was due to address a mass rally at Tehran university, ahead of the main weekly Muslim prayers.

Iran is implacably opposed to the new peace talks and has given strong support to the Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza and which carried out two shooting attacks against Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank in the run-up to the talks relaunch that killed four and wounded two.

Bureau Report