- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

TEHRAN | Iranian police fired tear gas and beat anti-government protesters with batons to disperse thousands at a graveside memorial Thursday for victims of post-election violence, witnesses and state television said.

Demonstrations that drew thousands more later spread to other parts of the capital, Tehran, and more clashes with security forces erupted. Witnesses said police fired tear gas at dozens of demonstrators on Vali Asr Street who set tires and trash cans ablaze in response.

Police barred opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from joining the crowd around the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who was fatally shot at a June 20 protest over the disputed presidential election. The 27-year-old music student’s dying moments on the pavement were filmed and circulated widely on the Web, and her name became a rallying cry for the opposition.

“Neda is alive, Ahmadinejad is dead,” some of those at the ceremony chanted, referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who the opposition claims won the June 12 election by fraud. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has accepted the election results and declared Mr. Ahmadinejad the winner.

Witnesses said plainclothes forces charged at them with batons and tear gas, some of them chanting, “Death to those who are against the supreme leader.” State television also reported that police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

An amateur video that purports to show the memorial captures thousands marching through the cemetery, chanting and flashing victory signs. Some wore green T-shirts - the color of Mr. Mousavi’s reformist movement.

With Thursday’s ceremony, the opposition aimed to harness growing anger over abuses in the nearly 7-week-old crackdown and give their movement further momentum in the face of the continuing wave of arrests. Allegations of the torture of jailed protesters - some to the point of death - have become an embarrassment to the clerical leadership, bringing criticism from top clerics and even fellow conservatives.

Thousands also gathered at the main Mosalla mosque in central Tehran, with heavy security forces nearby, and at other major intersections.

When Mr. Mousavi arrived at the grave site, hundreds of police surrounded him as supporters chanted “Yaa Hossein, Mir Hossein” - comparing their leader to the prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, who is the most revered Shi’ite saint. Police forced Mr. Mousavi to leave Behesht-e Zahra, the vast cemetery on Tehran’s southern outskirts where many of those killed in the crackdown have been buried, the witnesses said.

Afterward, his supporters remained at the grave, chanting, “Death to the dictator,” as the crowd swelled to several thousand, said the witnesses who asked not to be identified out of security concerns.

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