Reports of Shots Fired at Iranian Demonstrators

Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has declared he is “ready for martyrdom” and has urged his supporters across the nation to strike if he is detained or harmed. Responding to the supreme leader’s vocal support for the use of violence to suppress the demonstrations, security forces have reportedly fired shots at or over a crowd of demonstrators in central Tehran. Mousavi has written a letter to the nation’s highest electoral authority, demanding a re-run of the election; the move is being seen as the most overt show of defiance to date against the supreme leader.

With the Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i having promised “chaos and bloodshed” should demonstrations continue, today’s reports suggest that clashes between security forces and demonstrators have intensified. The Associated Press called today’s confrontations “fierce”, reporting:

Police beat protesters and fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands who rallied Saturday in open defiance of Iran’s clerical government, sharply escalating the most serious internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s English-language state TV said as reports of street clashes became public that a suicide bombing at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini south of Tehran had killed one person and wounded eight. The report could be not independently evaluated due to government restrictions on journalists.

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Foreign observers and pro-democracy activists have suggested Khamene’i could quell the unrest if he were to take a quieter public posture and side with the proposed partial recount. Those inside Iran who say the vote was rigged have begun to express their belief that the supreme leader is violating his constitutional obligations by not backing a full and thorough investigation of the charges.

There is increasing speculation that the two sides in this crisis have been hardening their positions throughout the week and that conflict may be likely, if the supreme leader does not act to find a negotiated solution. He has vowed to do anything within his power to stop an Iranian “velvet revolution”. As protesters today faced armed militia and uniformed security forces, many have reportedly been beaten or fired upon. The San Francisco Sentinel reports:

In some places, the protesters pushed back, rushing the militia in teams of hundreds, pitching at least three basijis from their motorcycles and setting the vehicles on fire. The protesters included many women, who even berated as “cowards” men who fled the basijis.

In all, there seemed some restraint on both sides. The protesters did not appear in the same huge numbers as earlier last week, and while the police fired shots, they appeared — so far — to be in the air.

“If they open fire on people and if there is bloodshed, people will get angrier,” said one protester, Ali, 40. “They are out of their minds if they think with bloodshed they can crush the movement.”

Police have reportedly blockaded the Tehran University campus, in an effort to prevent demonstrations organized by student groups from joining the opposition rallies. The Hindu newspaper is also reporting “heavy clashes” and security helicopters overhead:

Witnesses reported heavy clashes on Saturday between protesters and riot police, which used tear gas and water cannons to disperse around three thousand people at Revolution Square.

Agency reports said police and plainclothes militia beat up 50-60 protesters, who were taken to the Imam Khomeini hospital in central Tehran. Helicopters hovered overhead to take pictures of the scene while ambulance sirens could be heard in the streets.

The sound of ambulances has been reported throughout the city center, and foreign embassies in Tehran are reportedly opening their gates to aid the wounded.

US pres. Barack Obama has expressed deepening concern over the handling of the crisis, warning the Iranian leadership that “the world is watching”. Reacting to Khamene’i's forecast of “chaos and bloodshed”, Obama warned that “how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and — and is not”.

Obama also said he would not fall into the trap set by some in the Iranian leadership who would like him to get involved in the crisis in order to cast the opposition as US pawns. His press secretary Robert Gibbs said “We’re not going to be used as political foils and political footballs in a debate that’s happening by Iranians in Iran”.

An unknown number of dissidents have been detained, most of them held without charge in as-yet undisclosed locations. According to the Guardian newspaper:

The violent interventions of the Basij militia – one of Ahmadinejad’s bases of electoral support – armed with bicycle chains, batons and Kalashnikovs and dressed in a mixture of civilian clothes and fatigues, is an increasingly significant factor in the crisis.

Special units of the Army of Mohammad Rasulallah, part of the Revolutionary Guard noted for its iron fist tactics, have also reportedly taken over law enforcement in the capital.

While opposition leaders call for calm and for ongoing demonstrations, ordinary Iranians are beginning to express more fear about what actions the regime will take to prevent a re-run of the election or an investigation of alleged fraud. Tehran is being overtaken by military police units, and an aide to one of the opposition candidates, Mehdi Karoubi, has said for security reasons, he cannot speak to the press. Moderate clerics that had called for massive rallies today postponed them to avoid the “bloodshed” Khamene’i promised.

UPDATE, 23:40 GMT: Reports emerging from Tehran say 30 to 40 people have been killed as security forces seek to repress spreading protests. Clashes between unarmed demonstrators and security forces, both uniformed military and plainclothes Basij paramilitaries, have been videotaped in Shiraz and Isfahan. There are also unconfirmed reports of security forces raiding homes, removing people by force, and government agents taking the names of wounded demonstrators seeking hospital care.

UPDATE, 2:41 GMT, 21 June: Unconfirmed reports are emerging from Shiraz that Hale Yousefian, a member of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign and a former minister of the Iranian parliament, has been detained. The arrest has not been independently confirmed, but such news is being disseminated via online messaging sites like Twitter. Sporadic reports from unnamed bystanders and foreign media suggested the night could be a dangerous time for opposition supporters.

Videos have also emerged that appear to show unarmed victims of gunshot wounds, allegedly from shots fired by security forces. Here are two examples; be warned, the images are very graphic and may be disturbing:

One site that is collecting videos from links posted to Twitter is CastTV. Some sites, like TweetFeed’s RT Iran page, are showing live updates as new messages with eyewitness accounts, likes, video or transcripts of politicians’ statements, come in. Reports of violence are numerous and coming from a wide range of sources, so figures for the number of demonstrators, number of detained, or dead and injured, are hard to verify.

According to AHN, “Unconfirmed reports put the death toll in Iran at 150 on Saturday from violent clashes in Iran over the recent presidential elections, it was the worst violence there since the 1979 revolution.” CNN reports that hospital officials have confirmed at least 19 deaths.

The following video shows police attacking students and opposition supporters at Shiraz University, on Saturday:

The Huffington Post kept a live blog throughout the day, tracking online, anecdotal and wire service reports of incidents across Iran. Sometime after midnight Iranian time, the news began to spread that an Iranian state TV report claiming the Assembly of Experts had published a letter supporting the supreme leader and backing Mr. Ahmedinejad was in fact false. The letter had been signed by only one member of the Assembly, a hardline cleric who is described as close to Khamene’i, a rival of Rafsanjani and a staunch supporter of Ahmedinejad.

UPDATE, 2:52 GMT, 21 June: Online sources are posting warnings that Basij militia gangs are “breaking into homes”. There are specific warnings that the militia are heading for Shiraz, or are there already. One feed urges readers in the area “Basiji’s are breaking into homes! Gather with your neighbors in large groups!” These are not the first reports of Basij raiding private homes, but there is not yet independent evidence to show the breakins or what amount of force has been used.

These updates continue here…

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17 Comments

on “Reports of Shots Fired at Iranian Demonstrators
17 Comments on “Reports of Shots Fired at Iranian Demonstrators
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