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Iranian Opposition Leader Pledges to Continue Struggle

A planned rally in Tehran has been called off by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi on the anniversary of last June's disputed presidential election. However, there have been reports of protesters in the streets of the Iranian capital and clashes between protesters and police.

People in Mashhad, Iran, on Friday night, shouting in Arabic, "God Is Greatest." Students and other opposition protesters also took part in what appeared to be spontaneous rallies at a number of large Tehran universities and central squares Saturday but the mass protest promised by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has been called off. Mousavi said the opposition will continue to use peaceful methods to resist the Iranian government.

Video footage showed dozens of Iranian police vehicles guarding one Tehran Square and eyewitness reports spoke of a heavy presence of security forces across the city. One young man, who did not give his name, told Radio Farda that he saw Islamic Basiji security forces attacking the crowd of protesters near Tehran's well-known Enghelab Square.

He says that the Basiji forces in civilian clothing mounted a harsh attack against people who had gathered in the area of Enghelab Square and that he saw a young woman getting beaten.

Scott Lucas of the University of Birmingham in Britain, who writes the popular Iran blog Enduring America, says that Saturday's protests are unusual in that there was no advance announcement that they would take place.

"What's distinctive about this is that these folks came out despite the withdrawal of the official sanction [Mousavi's call], so this is much more a decentralized scene that we're seeing [Saturday]," he said. "They kept it a lot quieter. They didn't reveal plans before this. There was no announcement of routes apart from a general call from Imam Hossein Square to Azadi Square. They kept their mouths shut on this."

Mousavi told supporters during an online press conference Friday that he was calling off an official rally scheduled for Saturday citing fears of violence and concern for the lives of the protesters.

Mousavi went on to urge opposition supporters to "continue their movement of protest" in a "decentralized sort of way." He also told them to flood the internet with sound and videos of their protests, to outflank the government's use of force against them.

Sense of insecurity

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who lives in exile in France, says that the government's massive deployment of security forces in the centers of major Iranian cities to scare off protesters reveals its sense of insecurity.

He says that the regime is demonstrating its fear of the people by occupying cities (with a heavy security presence), even though Mousavi and another opposition figure, Mahdi Karroubi, asked their supporters not to demonstrate. He argues that large crowds would turn out and protest if the government did not deploy those forces. He adds that many students and others are now saying that they don't need Mousavi's or Karroubi's permission to demonstrate, since they didn't ask for it when protests began, last year.

Iranian government TV marked the first anniversary of last year's disputed presidential election by denouncing the widespread popular protests which ensued, calling them the work of "rioters" and "foreign agents." The TV also claimed that the BBC and VOA were responsible for inciting the protests.