Tehran. Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Iran’s regime took to the streets of major cities on Wednesday in a show of force against the opposition which it accuses of being “pawns of the enemies.”
State television showed footage of people swarming downtown areas including Tehran’s Enghelab square, chanting slogans and waving placards in support of the regime as hard-liners threatened opposition leaders with prosecution.
“Oh free-willed leader, we are ready, we are ready,” they sang out in reference to the Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The massive rallies were called for by clerics, seminary schools and the armed forces in response to a string of opposition protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed June re-election.
Opposition Web sites reported some state-owned factories had allocated transport for employees to be taken to the rallies, while traditional bazars were closed for the day in some cities.
Hard-liners have reacted angrily after thousands of opposition supporters used the climax on Sunday of Ashura, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest days, to protest, condemning the demonstrations as “desecration.”
“The offensive slogans have made the pious Iranian nation sad and the Zionist world happy, and in practice they as pawns of the enemies have furnished a red carpet for the foreigners who are aiming at the nation’s security,” the government said in a statement.
“The knowledgeable people of Islamic Iran will once again put the lackeys of global oppression in their place and will blind the eyes of sedition,” the statement added.
Public prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie told a closed session of Parliament that opposition leaders Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi “are on the wanted list,” ILNA news agency reported, citing MP Hassan Norouzi.
But the opposition has hit out at the authorities for resorting to the use of tear gas, batons and eventually live rounds to push back the protestors in the protests on Sunday that turned deadly.
Authorities confirmed eight people died during Sunday’s violence but have rejected opposition charges that they were killed by security forces, insisting the deaths were “suspicious.”
Since the clashes, Iran has rounded up scores of opposition figures, while several reformist journalists and activists were also arrested, reports said.
Three hundred of the 500 “rioters” arrested by police at the weekend were still in detention, Iran’s police chief Esmaeel Ahmadi Moghaddam said on Wednesday, adding more were detained by other security agencies.
The UN’s human rights chief said she was shocked by the violence in Iran after the crackdown on opposition protesters, and urged Tehran to rein in “excesses by security forces.”
On Wednesday, President Ahmadinejad said “the heads of the US and some European nations” are “repeating their old mistakes” in comments reported by ISNA news agency.
In a warning to anyone planning fresh protests, Ahmadi Moghaddam said his officers would now adopt a policy of zero tolerance.
“The police had tolerated the rioters before Ashura but now that the rioters have shown their allegiance to movements trying to topple the regime, there will be no more tolerance and they will be dealt with severely,” he said.
Also on Wednesday the official IRNA news agency said some MPs and leaders have emphasized that the “prosecution of the heads of the sedition has become a public demand.”
But Iran’s deputy police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, later played down the likelihood of them being arrested, according to a report by Mehr news agency.
“The arrest of the heads of the protests is not on the police agenda. We do not want to give them importance by arresting them,” he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, opposition web site Rahesabz on Wednesday reported that the authorities had ordered the family of Mousavi to hold a quiet funeral for his nephew who was killed during Sunday’s unrest.