Iran police, mourners clash after Montazeri funeral

Iran police clashed with stone-throwing protesters after the funeral attended by vast crowds of mourners in Qom on Monday of dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, websites said.

Montazeri, an inspiration to Iran reformists and human rights activists and a fierce critic of the clerical regime he helped create, died aged 87 on Saturday.

“According to reports, security and police forces clashed with people after Ayatollah Montazeri’s funeral,” opposition website Kaleme.org said. “The police cracked down on people who were shouting slogans in front his house and people threw stones at them,” it added.

Hundreds of hard-line basij militia members and clerics, it added, also gathered near Montazeri’s house and chanted slogans in favour of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and against the protesters.

According to the website, “hundreds of thousands” of people turned out for the funeral, many of them carrying green signs—the colour of Iran’s opposition—and shouting anti-government slogans.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi also attended the funeral, which was marred by brief clashes between hard-line pro-government vigilantes and mourners, reports said.

“Ansar Hezbollah groups entered the crowd and wanted to derail the slogans and disrupt the ceremony. They went away after clashing with some people,” Rahesabz.net reported.

A conservative news site, Asriran.com, also reported hundreds of thousands of mourners at the ceremony.

The reports could not be independently verified by Agence France-Presse as foreign media are banned from covering the ceremony.

The cleric, who had been considered by his followers as the highest living authority of Shi’ite Islam in Iran, was being buried in the shrine of Masoumeh, a revered Shi’ite figure, in Qom.

Mousavi and Karroubi had declared Monday a day of mourning and urged their supporters to participate in the funeral.

Mourners were shouting slogans such as “Dictator, Montazeri’s way will continue” and “Montazeri is not dead, it is the government which is dead,” Rahesabz said.

The authorities have slowed internet connections down to a crawl, as has been the case whenever opposition demonstrations are anticipated.

Once designated as the successor to the founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Montazeri came out in bold support of the Iranian opposition when it rejected the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered condolences to his family although Montazeri was also critical of him and questioned his credentials for being the country’s highest religious authority.

Montazeri had long been critical of the concentration of power in the hands of the supreme leader and called for changes to the Constitution, which he helped draw up after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, to limit his authority.

The grand ayatollah also often criticised hardliner Ahmadinejad over his domestic and foreign policies, including Tehran’s nuclear stand-off with the West.

He called on other leading clerics to break their silence over rights abuses during the government’s crackdown on opposition supporters protesting the presidential election, which they charge was rigged in Ahmadinejad’s favour.

Montazeri, one of the chief architects of the Islamic republic, was a student and close ally of Khomeini, whom he was set to succeed.
But the cleric fell from grace in the late 1980s after he became too openly critical of political and cultural restrictions, most notably Iran’s treatment of political prisoners and opposition groups.

Montazeri resigned months before Khomeini’s death in 1989, and was told by Khomeini to stay out of politics and focus instead on teaching in Qom. Unfazed by such warnings, he continued to speak out.

The grand ayatollah also questioned the theological credentials of Khamenei. This was branded as treason, and in 1997 he was placed under house arrest.

Freed after five years on health grounds during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, the grand ayatollah vowed that he would continue to speak out in defence of freedom and justice.—AFP

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