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New Wave Of Political Unrest, Violence Hits Iran

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New Wave Of Political Unrest, Violence Hits Iran

Middle East

New Wave Of Political Unrest, Violence Hits Iran

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Iran today, there were more clashes between riot police and demonstrators. The demonstrators were mourning people killed since the dispute erupted over Iran's presidential election in June. Today, riot police in Tehran used tear gas and attacked mourners with truncheons. They even smashed the windows as drivers honked their horns in solidarity with the protesters. NPR's Mike Shuster has been following events from a distance. He reports, the demonstrations no signs of abating and they've caused significant ruptures among Iran's hardline leaders.

(Soundbite of protests)

MIKE SHUSTER: It's hard to say how many people came out into the streets of Tehran once again to face the riot police, but witnesses say several thousand took part chanting down with the dictator and other slogans challenging the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. The location of the clashes was highly symbolic, the grave where 27-year-old Neda Soltan is buried. Soltan was shot and killed at a demonstration in June and her death was captured on cell phone video and circulated around the world. Mir Hossein Mousavi tried to join the mourners, but police would not permit it. The opposition in Iran believes Mousavi was the real winner in the June 12th election. Later, another crowd of mourners, also said to be in the thousands, assembled at a prayer ground in central Tehran. The police attacked there, as well. Today, for the first time, Neda Soltan's mother, Hajar(ph), spoke about her daughter's death with the BBC.

Ms. HAJAR SOLTAN: (Through Translator) She left the house mid-afternoon. I couldn't join her, but I said I would keep in touch with her. I managed to get through to her twice. I asked her, what's going on? She said the streets are full of people.

SHUSTER: After that, Hajar could not reach her. And then in the evening, Hajar got a call from Neda's music teacher to come to the hospital.

Ms. SOLTAN: (Through Translator) I went to the hospital. The music teacher, Mr. Panahi(ph), his shirt was covered in blood. I said I want to know the truth. I knew something was wrong. They were not telling me the truth. They kept saying different things about where she had been shot. Fifteen or 20 minutes later, I learned that my daughter was dead.

SHUSTER: The clashes today come amidst growing disarray within Iran's hardline government. The very public conflict has broken out between President Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over Ahmadinejad's appointment to high office of a man, hardliners consider too soft on Israel. That led to the resignations of two key figures in Ahmadinejad's government, the ministers of intelligence and culture. That in turn is threatening the stability of the government and brought a rebuke from a majority of members of parliament. Muhammed Sahimi, who writes for a Web site called Tehran Bureau, says the government of Iran is now in deep crisis.

Mr. MUHAMMED SAHIMI (Reporter, Tehran Bureau): The hardliners, although they pretend that they have won the election fair and square, they know that, at the minimum, even according to their own statistics of voting, a large fraction of the population does not believe in the legitimacy of the election.

SHUSTER: And as if instability in the government and continuing street clashes were not enough, most of the senior ayatollahs within the clerical establishment in Qom, Iran's center of Islamic learning, have now made their disapproval known through their silence, says Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

Ms. FARIDEH FARHI (Iran Specialist, University of Hawaii): None of them has actually congratulated Mr. Ahmadinejad for his presidency, and they have remained quiet. Now, it is true that you have some clerics that are close to centers of power, and are considered to be hardliners, that have supported Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Khamenei's action. But the silence that you hear from Qom are very significant.

SHUSTER: There is also growing evidence that many more than 20 — the official figure — were killed during clashes with police since the election, says Muhammed Sahimi. Some have been killed after they were detained in prison.

Mr. SAHIMI: I have seen list of 92 people who have been killed. I have several friends who are medical doctors and work in Tehran in various hospitals. And what they told me is that they believe that the number of people, who have been killed is much larger than what the officials have accepted.

SHUSTER: It all adds up to growing instability in Iran, according to Farideh Farhi.

Ms. FARHI: There is no doubt that there is going to be more disagreements, more tensions. In effect, you can consider the situation in Iran as totally chaotic.

SHUSTER: Next week, Ahmadinejad is to be inaugurated for his second four-year term as president. Mousavi has called for protest throughout the week.

Mike Shuster NPR News.

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