Iran forces kill 8 on Shi’ite holy day

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ISTANBUL | Iran’s six-month political crisis escalated Sunday as security forces killed at least eight people, including the nephew of an opposition leader, and arrested hundreds, creating new martyrs and momentum for Iran’s opposition on the holiest day for Shi’ite Muslims.

Clashes continued well into the night after a day of renewed violence that some Iranians dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” A reformist Web site said the Islamic republic had declared martial law for the first time since the 1978-79 revolution in Najafabad, the hometown of a dissident cleric who died last week.

The protesters, in turn, broke several taboos, setting fire to a station of the paramilitary Basij and torching police motorcycles and other police vehicles throughout Tehran. Protesters in some cases beat police and pelted others with stones. They also besieged the headquarters of the state broadcasting authority and stripped captured policemen of their weapons, according to witnesses, Web sites and videos displayed widely on the Internet.

The reformist Rahesabz news agency reported that some security officers refused their commanders’ instructions to shoot into crowds, instead firing their weapons into the sky. Videos posted on the Internet showed a policeman changing sides and being carried aloft by demonstrators through the streets of Tehran.

Although the government appeared in no danger of falling imminently, Iran analysts said the regime appeared increasingly incapable of coping with the massive outpouring of unrest.

“I don’t think they have a plan,” said Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “The government is making so many mistakes. They should have let all the mourning ceremonies happen. They need to give a forum to people to speak out.”

Witnesses and opposition Web sites said that the clashes, which took place in Tehran and a half-dozen other cities, were the bloodiest in several months. At least eight people were killed, among them Seyed Al Hossein Mousavi, 35, the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who challenged incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 12 elections tainted by fraud.

An Iranian police statement said five people were killed and that “experts are seeking to identify the suspicious elements.”

State television said more than 300 protesters were arrested in Tehran alone.

“Dozens of police officers have been injured, including Tehran’s police chief,” Iranian deputy police chief Ahmadreza Radan told state TV. “One person fell from a bridge, two died in car accidents and one was shot dead, but not by police.”

Press TV, an English-language channel run by the government, said Mr. Mousavi was killed by “unknown assailants.”

The reformist-aligned kaleme.org news site said Mr. Mousavi was shot in the heart.

Hoda Nasiri, a political activist, told The Washington Times that she was among a crowd that witnessed a sniper shooting Mr. Mousavi from a rooftop. Ms. Nasiri said the body was taken later to Tehran’s Avicenna Hospital.

“I saw with my eyes a middle-aged male protester shot dead by riot police,” added a man who asked to be referred to only by his first name, Massoud. “People carried the corpse over their heads for about a kilometer until riot police rushed the crowd, grabbed the body and left it on the street for over an hour before it was transferred.”

In Najafabad, the hometown of the recently deceased Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, locals and police turned the town’s central garden into a battlefield, fighting each other with stones and knives, according to the Agence Iran Web site. As dusk fell, authorities circulated in the streets using loudspeakers to announce martial law. Rahesabz, the reformist news site, said the declaration was the first since the 1978-79 revolution overturned the pro-Western shah.

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