- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

Several thousand protesters - some chanting “Where is my vote?” - clashed with riot police in Tehran on Sunday as Iran detained local employees of the British Embassy, escalating the regime’s standoff with the West and earning it a stinging rebuke from the European Union.

Witnesses said riot police used tear gas and clubs to break up a crowd of up to 3,000 protesters who had gathered near north Tehran’s Ghoba Mosque in the country’s first major postelection unrest in four days.

Several described scenes of brutality, telling the Associated Press that some protesters suffered broken bones and accused police of beating an elderly woman, prompting a screaming match with young demonstrators who then fought back.

The reports could not be independently verified because of tight restrictions imposed on journalists in Iran.

North Tehran is a base of support for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has claimed massive fraud in Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential election and insisted that he — not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — is the rightful winner.

Sunday’s clashes erupted at a rally that had been planned to coincide with an annual memorial for Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, who came to be considered a martyr in the Islamic republic after he was killed in a major anti-regime bombing in 1981.

Witnesses said the protesters also chanted, “Ya Hussein, Mir Hossein,” linking Mr. Mousavi’s first name with the Imam Hussein — a revered Shi’ite saint who was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and a symbol of personal sacrifice for a cause.

Iranian authorities said 17 protesters and eight members of the volunteer Basij militia have been killed in two weeks of unrest, and that hundreds of people have been arrested. Supporters of Mr. Mousavi have put the death toll at nearly 250.

The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights said at least 2,000 arrests have been made. The group’s vice president, Abdol Karim Lahidji, said his information came from members of human rights groups in Iran and other contacts inside the country.

Iran’s diplomatic battles also intensified after authorities detained several local employees of the British Embassy in Tehran.

Iranian media said eight local embassy staff were detained for purported roles in postelection protests but gave no further details. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said “about nine” employees were detained Saturday and that four had been released.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Corfu, Greece, issued a statement condemning the arrests and calling for the immediate release of all those still detained. The 27-nation bloc also denounced Iran’s continuing restrictions on journalists.

“They make clear to the Iranian authorities that harassment or intimidation of foreign or Iranian staff working in embassies will be met with a strong and collective EU response,” the statement said.

Iran has accused the West of stoking unrest and has expelled two British diplomats. Britain responded in kind.

Iran’s sharpening anti-Western rhetoric threatens to dash hopes for the new dialogue President Obama initially envisioned when he took office.

However, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Sunday that the bloc would “like very much” to restart nuclear talks with Tehran despite the rising tensions.

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