Thousands demonstrate in Iran despite ban

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Tehran, Feb 14 (AFP) Thousands of defiant Iranianopposition supporters, moving in scattered groups in Tehrantoday, staged what they said was a rally supporting Arabrevolts as riot police armed with batons moved in to dispersethem, witnesses and opposition websites said.

Iranian authorities blocked access to the house ofopposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to prevent him fromattending the rally which he and fellow opposition leaderMehdi Karroubi had sought to hold.

While Iran has backed the Arab uprisings in Tunisiaand Egypt, the interior ministry in Tehran banned the rallysaying it was a ploy by the opposition to stageanti-government demonstrations as seen in 2009 after there-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Witnesses and opposition websites reported thatthousands of opposition supporters were walking in scatteredcrowds silently towards Tehran''s prominent Azadi Square(Freedom Square) from several parts of the capital aspolicemen kept a sharp watch and tried dispersing them.

Riot police on motorbikes armed with shotguns, teargas, batons, paintball guns and fire extinguishers weredeployed in key squares in the capital to prevent thegatherings.

One witness described how one group of demonstratorswas walking silently from Imam Hussein Square to EnghelabSquare. "They are being silent and trying to keep a lowprofile," the witness said.

"Some policemen are chasing protesters in order todisperse them," another witness said, adding around 1,000anti-riot policemen were also deployed in and around ImamHussein Square.

More police and Basij militiamen took up positions inHaft-e Tir square, a regular site for intense anti-governmentprotests in 2009.

The foreign media has been banned by authorities fromon-the-spot reporting of the gatherings.

Police meanwhile stopped Mousavi and his wife ZahraRahnavard from attending the rally as they tried to step outof their house at around 2:45 pm (1115 GMT), Mousavi''s websiteKaleme.com reported.

Kaleme.com said earlier that police had blocked accessto Mousavi''s house since early Monday. "From today the policehave blocked the alley where their house is located...There isno possibility of coming and going," it said.

The report said all telephone lines at the house,including the mobile phone connections of Mousavi and hiswife, have been severed. (AFP)

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