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Iran's hard-liners face off over cabinet

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired his intelligence minister Sunday after being forced to remove his first vice president, a close adviser.

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According to eyewitnesses, security forces established temporary checkpoints to control access to popular rallying points such as Enghelab (Revolution) and Vali Asr (Lord of Times) squares. Plainclothes and uniformed agents intimidated pedestrians or ripped off registration plates from cars believed to belong to demonstrators, to discourage people from forming a crowd. Once crowds formed, roving motorcycle riders ranged through the street grid, using two-way radios to call in centers of dissent to the riot police. Basij militiamen charged protesters chanting slogans with batons and beat them severely before handing them over to plainclothes agents to haul them off to detention centers.

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"A delicate and prolonged period of balance of fear has started between the government and the opposition," says Nader Uskowi, a Washington-based Iran analyst and president of Uskowi Associates. "After enduring a month of relentless attack by government forces, the opposition reaffirmed its strength, but the government will hang onto power with support from the armed forces and a segment of the more traditional and rural population."

Frustrated at the protesters' coordinated nightly shouts of Allahu Akbar ("God is great") from rooftops around Tehran, security forces have recently shot in their direction.

Candidates fuel protests

Mousavi and other candidates' refusal to accept defeat in what they claim was a rigged election has emboldened protesters to continue with their campaign.

"They are certain that they have won the elections – not an established fact but this is a case where perception is more important than reality – and are not optimistic about improvements in the social and economic front if and when these tensions quiet down," says Salehi-Isfahani.

"Even before the election, young people did not find the future the government promised to them satisfying. And with the added tensions of the security environment, they have even less reason to be hopeful," he continues.

Mr. Mousavi and former reformist president Mohammad Khatami were two of 69 signatories to a public letter to high-ranking ayatollahs Saturday calling on them to "remind the relevant authorities of the damaging consequences of employing unlawful methods and warn them about the spread of tyranny in the Islamic republic system," according to a copy of the letter made available to the Associated Press.

"I don't understand why Khamenei is making these great mistakes," says Mohsen, a student in Tehran who asked that his last name not be used. "Day by day, his close associates are being alienated, which is reducing his influence over the regime."

The opposition movement claimed a high-profile martyr for its cause after the death of a top official's son was announced by two reformist newspapers.

"Mohsen Ruholamini, arrested in July 9 gatherings … was killed," reported Etemad-e Melli, a newspaper owned by opposition candidate Mehdi Karroubi.

MR. Ruholamini's father was a leading adviser to conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Revolutionary Guard.