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Iran opposition energized by Montazeri funeral in Qom, say eyewitnesses

The death of Iran cleric Montazeri “is also a blessing – it brought people out again,” said an engineering student, one of hundreds of thousands who turned out. Eyewitnesses report pro-regime basiji and mourners in verbal clash inside Qom shrine.

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Newspaper presses stopped; Mousavi attacked

In Iran on Monday, the regime sought to undermine the legacy of Montazeri – the man who was once the chosen successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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An edition of one newspaper with stories dedicated to Montazeri was stopped at the printers on Sunday by a representative of the prosecutor’s office. The representative ruled that the paper must only print the statement from the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which had asked God to “forgive” Montazeri for his mistakes. If the paper refused, it would be shut down.

And those who continue to carry the reformist mantle in Iran felt the tension of the day early on Monday, when the man who claimed victory in the June election and has effectively led the Green Movement ever since – former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi – stepped out from the compound of Grand Ayatollah Saanei, a fellow reformist, to cross the street to Montazeri’s house in Qom.

At that moment, a group of 30 bearded men, holding Montazeri pictures to blend into the crowd, dropped the portraits, started attacking Mr. Mousavi and shouting “death to the hypocrite.” The former candidate had to be hustled quickly into the Montazeri compound.

The same thing happened when cleric Mehdi Karroubi – a two-time presidential candidate and former parliament speaker, whose public charges of rape of detainees shocked Iran’s political establishment – stepped into the street. This time, groups of reformists were ready and pushed back the vigilantes, so that Mr. Karroubi could pass.

But the violence was not finished. The reformist Kaleme website reported that Mousavi’s convoy was later attacked on its way back to Tehran by “plainclothes men” on motorbikes, who smashed the rear window of Mousavi’s car and injured a member of his entourage. The vigilantes forced the convoy to stop several times and insulted Mousavi, according to Reuters.

Inside the shrine – one of the holiest in Iran – where Montazeri’s body was laid to rest, opposition activists gathered and chanted “Death to the dictator.” When one group of pro-regime basiji militiamen came toward them, chanting “Death to the hypocrites,” the crowd changed to an anti-basiji slogan.

Then they took out money, offering it to the basiji, and chanted that they were acting as paid mercenaries of the regime: “Where is the oil money? Spent on the Basiji,” and “Basij’s great pride, rape in prison.”

The atmosphere in Qom on Monday, a Qom resident was overheard saying, had changed so much from its usual staid reverence that the Basiji and pro-Khamenei loyalists would have to spend weeks demonstrating to return it to “normal.”

Police disperse protesters, but not pro-Khamenei group

Back at Montazeri’s house, riot police on motorcycles chased mourners. At least one canister of teargas was fired. Police fired paintball guns.

Eventually two groups formed, one supporting Khamenei and carrying his pictures, and one of Green Movement protesters, both shouting at each other. Basijis took up the chant on the side of Khamenei: “So much army is here out of love for the [supreme] leader.” And another: “God’s hand is over our head, Khamenei is our leader.”

At prayer time, the Khamenei group began praying in the middle of the street. One hundred policemen sat ready on about 50 motorbikes. Little by little, they started dispersing the reformist mourners, without beating, until they were gone.

The police did not disperse the pro-Khamenei vigilantes, however. Someone said that, because they carried the supreme leader’s pictures, the police could not touch them.

The special correspondent from Qom could not be named for security reasons.