Hundreds of thousands of people joined government-backed rallies in Iran Wednesday, shouting death threats to opposition leaders they blame for unrest in the Islamic republic.
Crowds chanted pro-government slogans, and many of the demonstrators waved banners or held up pictures of Iran's conservative clerical rulers.
A senior conservative cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, told a Tehran rally that opposition leaders should "repent" or be confronted as a "mohareb" or enemy of God. The offense carries a death sentence.
Iran's state-run news agency (IRNA) reported Wednesday that opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had fled Tehran, but a relative of Mr. Mousavi told VOA (PNN) that the two men are hiding in the capital.
Iran's government organized Wednesday's rallies in response to recent opposition protests that were violently broken up by security forces.
The government says eight people were killed in Sunday's anti-government rallies, but opposition activists say the death toll is higher.
Iranian lawmakers gathered for a closed session of parliament Wednesday to discuss Sunday's events.
Iran's police chief, General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, said Wednesday his forces will no longer tolerate unsanctioned rallies and will use harsh measures against opposition protesters.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on Iran to bar security forces from using "excessive force" against demonstrators.
Iran's government denies opposition claims that security forces opened fire on protesters, and it describes the deaths of the eight activists as suspicious. Police said Wednesday that 500 protesters were arrested, of whom 300 remain in detention.
One of those killed Sunday was the nephew of opposition leader Mousavi. Family members held a burial service for Ali Mousavi Wednesday in Tehran.
Sunday's violence was the most serious in Iran since the protests that erupted after June's disputed presidential election that resulted in the re-election of President Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has accused the United States and Israel of staging the protests. In a statement Wednesday, Iran's close ally, Venezuela, also accused the U.S. of attempting to destabilize the Iranian government.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.