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Iranians Defy Crackdown to Hold Anti-Government Rallies


The U.S. and British governments have expressed concern about a new Iranian government crackdown on nationwide student-led protests.

Iranian security forces fired warning shots, tear gas and used batons to disperse thousands of reformists who rallied Monday in Tehran streets and universities.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the crackdown shows a "disregard" for the kind of rights enshrined in Iran's constitution. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also expressed concern with Tehran's use of force to "stifle" demonstrations, as he put it.

Opposition activists timed Monday's rallies to coincide with Iran's annual Student Day commemorations. Many protesters chanted "death to the dictator," a reference to Iran's leadership.

Several opposition activists were arrested, including student leader Majid Tavakoli of Tehran's Amir Kabir University. Iran's state-run IRNA news agency says Tavakoli tried to escape the university by disguising himself as a woman, but was caught.

Iranian police also surrounded Tehran University and covered its fences with white cloth to block the view of pro-reform rallies taking place inside.

Pro-government conservatives held their own rally at the university to mark the official theme of Student Day -- remembering three Iranian students killed by security forces in 1953 for taking part in an anti-American protest.

Reformist university students also rallied in the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Kerman. Many of them covered their faces in green masks and scarves, the color of the opposition movement of Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Mousavi issued a statement on his Web site saying the government is losing its legitimacy by fighting people in the streets and trying to silence students.

Iranian cleric Mehdi Karoubi, another prominent reformist, said in an interview published Monday that repression is not the answer. He told the French newspaper Le Monde that the government must tolerate and accept criticism to achieve reconciliation.

Iranian authorities shut down mobile phone networks in central Tehran to prevent opposition activists from mobilizing. The government also banned foreign journalists from covering the Tehran protests, revoking their work permits from December 7 to December 9.

Rights group Amnesty International accused Iranian security forces Monday of using excessive force against demonstrators. It called on Iran to release immediately all people detained for taking part in the protests.

Iran's opposition held mass protests earlier this year after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured a second term in a disputed June election. The post-election demonstrations were the largest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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