TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran security forces on Sunday killed several protesters including opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi’s nephew in a fierce crackdown on mass anti-government demonstrations in Tehran, websites said.
Opposition website Rahesabz.net said four protesters were shot dead by security forces in central Tehran while reformist website Parlemannews said Mousavi’s nephew died in hospital after being shot in the chest.
The clashes, which followed sporadic skirmishes on Saturday, marked the bloodiest showdown between protesters and security forces since the height of unrest in June which broke out after disputed presidential elections.
Police denied however that anyone had died in the clashes, which witnesses said came as tens of thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets of Tehran for a second straight day to use rituals of the Shiite Ashura ceremony to stage protests.
Witnesses said police had first used batons and tear gas in the crackdown, which followed stern warnings by the authorities that they would crush attempts to use the Ashura processions as a launchpad for protests.
When this failed to disperse the crowds, they opened fire, websites said.
Parlemannews said Seyed Ali Mousavi, the 35-year-old nephew of Mousavi, was shot near his heart during clashes at Enghelab square “and was martyred after he was taken to Ebnesina hospital.”
“At the moment, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the parents of this martyr of the Green Movement and some political figures are at hospital,” said the website, which is run by the parliament’s minority reformist faction which backs the opposition.
Opposition website Rahesabz.net reported four people killed but did not identify them.
“Three of our compatriots were martyred and two were injured in clashes. The (website) reporter who was on the scene said these three were directly shot at by military forces,”
A fourth protester was killed later near Vali Asr intersection on Enghelab, it said.
Police denied that protesters died in the clashes but said a number of policemen were injured.
“So far police have not received any reports of people killed and nobody has been killed,” Tehran metropolitan police chief Azizollah Rajabzadeh told the ISNA news agency.
“Police have not opened fire in Tehran and the policemen on duty did not carry any assault weapons,” he said.
Rajabzadeh said that police had made arrests in the protests but did not elaborate.
AFP was not able to verify the allegations of protesters killed as the foreign media is banned from covering opposition demonstrations.
Witnesses said that enraged protesters fought back at the security forces, pelting them with stones and chanting, “We fight and we die to get back Iran.”
They also beat up several policemen and set their pick-up truck on fire, witnesses said, adding that the policemen ran away with blood streaming down their faces.
Many protesters were chanting “Death to the dictator” and “It is the bloody month and the basiji will fall,” referring to the Islamist militia which plays a key role in suppressing protests.
They also chanted “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein” in support of opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.
The protesters, mainly young and middle-aged people including many women, were seen both beating on their chests in traditional Ashura mourning as well as shouting anti-government slogans.
By afternoon, large numbers of police and plainclothes security force members on motor bikes had taken control of Enghelab street, a witness said.
Rahesabz also reported heavy clashes between protesters and security forces in Isfahan and Najafabad — the hometown of late dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri — the city of Babol in northern Iran as well as in the southern city of Shiraz.
Opponents of President Ahmadinejad’s June 12 re-election have increasingly used a series of government-backed public events to mount protests, many of which have ended in clashes with police.
The last known deaths during street protests in Tehran were on June 20. The opposition says that at least 72 people were killed in June’s protests while the authorities put the figure at 36, including members of the basij.
Three protesters also died in custody after being beaten.
The 10-day Ashura ceremonies, which climaxed on Sunday, commemorate the slaying of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and one of the most revered figures of Shiite Islam, who died at the hands of the armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid in 680 AD.