4 killed in firing on Iranian protesters

4 killed in firing on Iranian protesters

4 killed in firing on Iranian protesters

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come under severe criticism for crackdown on opposition.

Thousands of opposition supporters chanting “Death to the dictator,” a reference to the hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, defied official warnings of a harsh crackdown on any protests coinciding with a religious observance on Sunday. Iranians were marking Ashoura, commemorating the seventh-century death in battle of one of Shiite Islam’s most beloved saints.

Security forces tried but failed to disperse protesters on a central Tehran street with tear gas, charges by baton-wielding officers and warning shots fired into the air. They then opened fire directly at protesters, killing at least three people, said witnesses and the pro-reform Web site Rah-e-Sabz.

The clashes marked the bloodiest confrontation between protesters and security forces since the height of unrest in the weeks after June’s disputed presidential election. The opposition says Ahmadinejad won the June election through massive vote fraud and that its leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was the true winner.

Reporters from foreign media organisations were barred from covering the demonstrations on Tehran’s central Engelab Street, or Revolution Street, and the reports of deaths could not be independently confirmed. Ambulance sirens could be heard near the site of the protests.

The December 20 death of the 87-year-old Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a sharp critic of Iran’s leaders, has given a new push to opposition protests, which have endured despite a heavy security crackdown since the election.

Iran’s police chief, General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, had threatened tougher action against protesters. Opposition leaders have used holidays and other symbolic days in recent months to stage anti-government rallies.