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Protests Continue for 3rd Night in Iranian Capital - 2003-06-13

Protests continued for a third night in the Iranian capital, Tehran, with calls for the removal of the country's supreme leader.

Despite official threats of a crackdown, the protests go on in Tehran. Early Friday morning, hundreds of student demonstrators called for the execution of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Young Iranians, many in their teens, chanted Khamenei, the traitor, must be hanged. Criticism of Iran's supreme leader is punishable by imprisonment and public calls for his death have, until this week, been unheard of.

Protests against Iran's clerical rule have picked up momentum this week but Friday's pre-dawn protest was smaller, numbering in the hundreds, than in the previous days, which saw several thousand people packing Tehran's streets.

The demonstrations are directed against both Iran's pro-reform president, Mohamed Khatami, and hard-line clerics who have blocked his attempts to bring about social and political change.

On Friday, police fired teargas at student demonstrators who lit fires inside the Tehran University campus, the scene of violent unrest four years ago. Many cars converged near the campus, horns honking, in support of the student moves.

Anti-riot squads worked to keep motorists and hard-line vigilantes from getting too close to the university. The Islamic militants shouted, Oh, exalted leader, we are ready to follow your instructions. They attacked several cars, breaking windows and insulting passengers.

On Thursday, Ayatollah Khamenei accused Washington of stirring up unrest in the country and warned the authorities would show no mercy to what he called hired mercenaries of the enemy.

U.S. officials have recently stepped up their criticism of Iran. They accuse it of meddling in Iraq, developing weapons of mass destruction and harboring al-Qaida terrorists, charges Iran denies.

While the protests are small, analysts say, they reflect widespread frustration in Iran, where more than half of its 65 million people are under the age of 30, economic opportunities are limited and efforts at reform are being thwarted.