Iranian Police Disperse Opposition Supporters

In Iran, thousands massed at Tehran's main Friday prayer service, and there are reports that police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi. The top cleric at the service called for the release of reformists jailed in June's post-election crackdown. Borzou Daragahi, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, talks with Steve Inskeep about developments in Iran.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's catch up now on events in Iran, where thousands massed at Tehran's main Friday prayer service today. There are reports that police fired tear gas and used batons at that religious service to disperse supporters of the opposition leader, Mirhossein Mousavi. He is the man who says a presidential election was stolen from him earlier this year. We're going now to Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times. He is in Beirut. He was in Tehran during the elections and has been following events ever since. Welcome back to the program.

Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Reporter, Los Angeles Times): Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: I want to just remind people what this Friday prayer service is. Big political event, this is the event where Iran's supreme leader told everyone to calm down after the election. Who was the main speaker today?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Today, it was Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He is considered the main figurehead behind Mousavi's campaign, the main clerical backer of the campaign. And he spoke - he gave a Friday prayer sermon that was very closely watched and very closely observed.

INSKEEP: What did he say?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, basically he had no solution. He had now - he didn't come to Friday prayers with a deal or some kind of a backroom proposal that he could have offered to diffuse the whole situation, the big dispute, the ongoing conflict, within the establishment and within the society. But what he did do was give some clerical backing for some of the key demands of the opposition, including freedom of speech, freeing of political prisoners and also some justice for those families who had been - who had suffered losses in recent weeks. And so, you know, you had a situation where it seemed like, our analysis is that, Rafsanjani tried and could not get a deal and instead came out very strongly in favor of some key opposition demands.

INSKEEP: And this very powerful clerical figure also did not seem to accept the election result itself. He said something must be done about it.

Mr. DARAGAHI: He absolutely did not accept the election results and he - in both the religious segment of the sermon and the more political one, he referred to the Prophet Mohammed and how the Prophet Mohammed was just towards those that he ruled, making a clear inference that the unrest that was unleashed by this election must be addressed by the country's leadership. It can't simply be swept under the rug.

INSKEEP: We're talking with Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times. He covers Iran. He is in Beirut at the moment, although I understand, Borzou, you have many sources of information within the country. What is the best information that you have about the protests and police crackdowns that swirled around the edges of this massive crowd in Tehran today?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, we're hearing that there was a little bit of unrest, but we don't have a really good confirmation. We know that there was helicopters hovering above. We know that the people, the young people and the older people as well, who came to this Friday prayer sermon as supporters of Mirhossein Mousavi, they came ready to rock, so to speak. These guys were prepared and willing to participate in a rally event after this sermon. This has become kind of a compulsion for some young people in Iran, these weekly clashes with the police. They come with their tennis shoes, they come with bottled water, ready to run, chase, throw rocks, etc., in what is becoming a regular affair.

INSKEEP: Is this reminding you at all of the 1979 revolution where there were many months of protests before there was actually a change in government?

Mr. DARAGAHI: I was only like 10 or 11 then, but yeah, there are some patterns that are similar to then. Although, you know, it should be noted that the movement that led up to the 1979 revolution was one that was rooted in decades of resistance by clerical and leftist groups…

INSKEEP: Right.

Mr. DARAGAHI: …and not just something that popped up after one election.

INSKEEP: Okay. Borzou, thanks very much.

Mr. DARAGAHI: It's been a pleasure.

INSKEEP: Borzou Daragahi is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He spoke with us from his base in Beirut from which he is monitoring events in Tehran, that's where a leading cleric attended Friday prayers, conducted a Friday prayer service today and spoke against Iran's election result. There were reports of police crackdowns and arrests around the edges of that sermon.

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