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Iran clamps down on opposition ahead of rally

Security forces cut phone lines and blockaded the home of an Iranian opposition leader on Monday in attempts to stop him attending a planned rally in support of Egypt's uprising, a reformist website reported.

world Updated: Feb 14, 2011 20:10 IST

Security forces cut phone lines and blockaded the home of an Iranian opposition leader on Monday in attempts to stop him attending a planned rally in support of Egypt's uprising, a reformist website reported.

Iranian authorities have poured police and militiamen onto the streets of Tehran to challenge any pro-Egypt marches, which officials worry could turn into demonstrations against Iran's ruling system.

The security clampdown is reminiscent of the backlash that crushed a wave of protests after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009. But opposition supporters revived a tactic from the unrest, shouting "Allahu Akbar," or God is Great, from rooftops and balconies into the early hours today in a sign of defiance toward Iran's leadership.

The reformist website kaleme.com said police stationed several cars in front of the home of Mir Hossein Mousavi ahead of the demonstration called for today in central Tehran.

Mousavi and fellow opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since last week after they asked the government for permission to hold a rally on Feb. 14 in support of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The government rejected the request and warned of repercussions if demonstrations take place.

Yesterday, the opposition renewed its call to supporters to rally, and accused the government of hypocrisy by voicing support for the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings while refusing to allow Iranian political activists to stage a peaceful demonstration.

"These elements are fully aware of the illegality of their demand and know that they won't get permission for revolt," Interior Ministry official Mahdi Alikhani was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying late yesterday.

Esmaeil Gerami Moghaddam, spokesman for Karroubi's National Confidence Party, countered on the party's website that under Iran's constitution there is no need for government permission to hold a peaceful rally.

Across central Tehran, riot police, many on motorbikes, fanned out to prevent any demonstration, witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from authorities.

The uprising in Egypt opened a rare chance for the political gambit by Iran's opposition.

Several opposition activists and aides to Mousavi and Karroubi have been arrested in recent days as part of government efforts to intimidate the opposition and undermine its resolve to hold a rally.

Ahmadinejad claimed the Egyptians who toppled President Hosni Mubarak took inspiration from Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought down a Western-backed monarchy. Iran's opposition movement used the comments to push the government into a corner and request permission to march in support of Egypt's protesters.