Clashes, teargas, arrests at Tehran Friday prayers (Second Lead)

TEHRAN - Iranian police several times used teargas against thousands of supporters of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi during the Friday prayers ceremony in central Tehran, witnesses said.

Several protesters were arrested by police in front of the Tehran University where the prayers were held, the witnesses said.

Hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters rushed to the venue in central Tehran, but only thousands reached the front gate of the Tehran University.

Earlier, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani called for an “open debate” on the recent controversial election which saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retain power.

He also called on the authorities in Friday prayers address to release opposition figures who have been imprisoned during a major crackdown on protesters which followed the election June 12.

A radius of more than three kilometres was filled with people surging towards the university, witnesses said.

Most were unable to get anywhere near the prayer venue, where large numbers of police and volunteer security forces formed a tight security cordon.

Witnesses said thousands of mainly Moussavi supporters, however, gathered in front of Tehran University wearing green masks. Most of the women wore green headscarves. Green is the colour for Moussavi’s opposition movement.

Rafsanjani began the speech with an appeal for calm. “Let us use the occasion to create a better future for our country,” he told the crowd in his first public appearance since the election.

He urged them not to disrupt the peaceful Friday prayers atmosphere with anti-government chants, witnesses said.

According to other witnesses, clashes occurred following the Friday prayers in the streets near the Tehran University.

A large number of protestors were shouting slogans against the government and chanted “Death to Dictator” and (President Mahmoud) “Ahmadinejad resign, resign”.

There was heavy traffic and most of the cars could not reach the prayer venue. Those stuck in traffic, however, showed victory signs and honked their horns.

Witnesses said that many protestors had come with the whole family, even their children. A lot of older people were also seen in the crowds.

On the Kargar Avenue, hundreds of protestors were carrying a huge green cloth in support of Moussavi. They also shouted “Death to Russia” for Moscow’s recognition of Ahmadinejad’s re-election.

Except in front of the Tehran university and nearby streets, the police made no attempt to confront protesters, witnesses said.

Rafsanjani and Moussavi are fierce opponents of Ahmadinejad and have not acknowledged his re-election in June 12 voting, which was marred by accusations of fraud by the opposition.

Foreign reporters and photographers were prohibited by security officials from covering the Friday prayer ceremony or even staying outside the university to observe.

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