Iran forces fire teargas, clash with protesters

Tehran denies opposition leaders jailed

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Iran's security forces fired teargas and clashed with opposition supporters in Tehran on Tuesday, where demonstrators were rallying to demand the release of two opposition leaders, according to an opposition website.

However, the online edition of state-run newspaper Iran reported that Tehran was calm, with work going on as usual.

Kaleme.com and Sahamnews.org, the websites of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, reported clashes between protesters and security forces near Tehran University and in other parts of the capital, including Azadi (Freedom) Square and Enghelab (Revolution) Square.

The reports said security forces, deployed in large numbers, fired tear gas at people chanting "Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein!" in support of Mousavi as well as "Death to the Dictator," referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the main target of the protests.

"Security forces and people in civilian clothes clashed with demonstrators in Tehran to disperse them," Kaleme reported.

Iran has banned foreign media from on-the-spot coverage of opposition protests.

Another opposition website, Rahesabz.net, reported that police arrested five people during the demonstrations.

Sahamnews.org said protesters were gathering in clusters "sporadically near Azadi Square but were being extensively attacked by special police forces."

Kaleme.com said plain-clothes men and security forces were "attacking protesters in central streets of Tehran, especially near Enghelab (Revolution) Square."

"Anti-riot police are attacking protesters with batons and firing tear gas ... while streets leading to Enghelab Square are being blocked," it said.

The protests were called by an opposition group backing Mousavi and Karroubi and to demand their release.

The status of the two men was unclear. Their websites claim they have been jailed, along with their wives, which officials deny.

Officials deny jailing

Earlier on Tuesday, Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie denied reports posted by opposition websites that the two men had been jailed in Tehran's Heshmatiyeh prison

"The published news by some hostile media regarding the transfer of Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi to Heshmatiyeh detention centre is false," he told the ISNA news agency.

On Monday the websites of the two leaders had first reported that Mousavi, Karroubi and their wives have been "arrested and transferred to Heshmatiyeh prison."

That report was quickly denied by an unnamed judicial official quoted by Fars news agency late Monday.

"A judiciary source has denied the arrest of the chiefs of sedition Mousavi and Karroubi," the Fars news agency reported, without naming the official, adding that he had insisted that both men were at their homes.

"They are currently in their homes and are faced only with restrictions to contact suspect elements," the report said.

But on Tuesday the family members of the two leaders repeated their claim that the two men and their wives were being held in the jail.

"We, the children of Mousavi and (his wife Zahra) Rahnavard, utterly reject the report denying our parents' detention in the prison of Heshmatiyeh," Mousavi's Kaleme.com website quoted the opposition leader's daughters as saying, just hours prior to Mohseni Ejeie's categorical denial.

"The only way to disprove the report of their arrest is by us meeting them immediately at our father's home. Given the evidence over the past days and weeks, we are certain that our parents are not at home."

Karroubi's family too had insisted earlier Tuesday that the cleric and his wife were in prison.

"All the evidence shows Mehdi Karroubi and Fatemeh Karroubi are not present at their home," the cleric's Sahamnews.org website quoted the family as saying.

It said a daughter-in-law of Karroubi had gone to visit him Monday morning, "but unfortunately no one showed up at the door.

"The family of Mehdi Karroubi considers this as abduction carried out by the regime."

Fars news agency late Monday cited an unnamed judiciary official as denying the claims the two leaders and their wives had been arrested.

"They are currently in their homes and are faced only with restrictions to contact suspect elements," said the judiciary official, who was not named.

"Complete" house arrest

The two men, who have never accepted Ahmadinejad's controversial June 2009 re-election, were put under "complete" house arrest after their supporters staged protests on February 14, the first in a year, their websites had reported last month.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani accused the two men of "treason", while lawmakers demanded they be hanged.

Opposition supporters planned to hold fresh demonstrations for their release later on Tuesday, according to their websites, but Mohseni Ejeie has warned that such illegal gatherings would not be tolerated.

Meanwhile Iran hit out at Washington which on Monday criticized Tehran over the reported jailing of the two men.

"These issues are our internal affairs. No country is allowed and will not be allowed to interfere in our internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Mehmanparast further said that the issue of the two leaders, once seen as pillars of the
regime, will be "dealt within the legal framework by the judiciary."

White House spokesman Jay Carney had called on Monday for the release of Mousavi and Karroubi when reports of their jailing first emerged.

"We obviously find the detention of opposition leaders to be unacceptable. And we call (for) them to be treated well and released," Carney said.