Tehran: Iranian riot police armed with batons and belts clashed with mourners staging a defiant graveside commemoration on Thursday 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.
Shouting "death to the dictator" and "government of the coup: resign, resign" some of the estimated 2,000-strong crowd hurled stones at hundreds of police at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery south of Tehran, the witnesses said.
Police forced Iran`s main opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to leave the graveyard just minutes after his arrival and were also surrounding prominent reformist Mehdi Karroubi, witnesses said.
"Today is a mourning day. Loyal Iranians are the mourners today," shouted the crowds.
Iranians were marking the 40th day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who came to symbolise the public uprising over Ahmadinejad`s June 12 victory which the opposition charges was rigged.
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 sometimes brutal Iranian crackdown on demonstrators.
Crowds gathered around Neda`s grave which was decorated with candles and flowers as police used sticks, batons and belts and arrested several mourners, including prominent film director Jafar Panahi and his family, a witness said.
Mousavi and Karroubi, who have waged a defiant protest campaign since losing to Ahmadinejad, had decided to visit the cemetery after the authorities banned another memorial ceremony at a major religious venue in Tehran.
"Mousavi... was immediately surrounded by anti-riot police who led him to his car," a witness said as people chanted "Ya Hossein! Mir Hossein!".
Karroubi protested at the heavy-handed action by police for what was planned as peaceful commemoration of the "martyrs" with graveside readings from the Koran, saying: "I don`t understand this policy to deploy and surround (the cemetery) with security personnel."
Mousavi, a Prime Minister in the post-revolution years who was Ahmadinejad`s main challenger, has consistently refused to acknowledge his rival`s victory, saying it was a "shameful fraud."