Thousands of defiant Iranian opposition supporters, moving in scattered groups in Tehran on Monday, staged what they said was a rally supporting Arab revolts as riot police armed with batons moved in to disperse them, witnesses and opposition websites said.
Iranian authorities blocked access to the house of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to prevent him from attending the rally which he and fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi had sought to hold.
While Iran has backed the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the interior ministry in Tehran banned the rally saying it was a ploy by the opposition to stage anti-government demonstrations as seen in 2009 after the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Witnesses and opposition websites reported that thousands of opposition supporters were walking in scattered crowds silently towards Tehran’s prominent Azadi Square from several parts of the capital as policemen kept a sharp watch and tried dispersing them. Riot police on motorbikes armed with shotguns, tear gas, batons, paintball guns and fire extinguishers were deployed in key squares in the capital to prevent the gatherings.
A witness described how a group of demonstrators was walking silently from Imam Hussein Square to Enghelab Square. “They are being silent and trying to keep a low profile,” the witness said.
Police and Basij militiamen took up positions in Haft-e Tir square, a site for intense 2009 anti-government protests.
Kaleme.com said earlier that police had blocked access to Mousavi’s house since early Monday. The foreign media has been banned by authorities from on-the-spot reporting of the gatherings.
Iranian officials, including commanders from the elite military force, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Basij militia have warned the opposition against staging Monday’s rally.
Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naghdi on Sunday said Western spies wanted to ignite a revolt in Iran similar to those which raged in Tunisia and Egypt and that they were searching for “a mentally challenged person who could set himself on fire.” Naghdi said his militiamen were “ready to sacrifice their lives” to defend the Islamic regime against an opposition which he likened to the “party of Satan.”