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Iran security forces in evidence ahead of pro-Palestinian rallies

Central Tehran is blanketed with security forces and the home of a reformist leader reportedly remains under siege by pro-government militiamen in apparent attempts to intimidate the opposition.

By Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels, Los Angeles Times

1:14 PM PDT, September 2, 2010

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut

Iranian security forces patrolled central Tehran on Thursday and the home of a reformist leader reportedly remained under siege by pro-government militiamen in what appeared to be attempts to intimidate the political opposition ahead of rallies planned for Friday.

Riot police lined the streets near Enghelab Square and around Tehran University in the morning hours ahead of Friday's gatherings to mark Quds Day, an annual event in support of the Palestinian struggle against Israel that the government fears will draw opposition supporters to the streets.

State-run media have called on government supporters to turn out for Friday's rallies, and the pro-government militiamen, known as Basiji, produced two new anti-Israel video games called "Satan's Den 2" and "Attack on Freedom Flotilla" for the occasion.

"The new games will be distributed tomorrow simultaneously with Quds Day rallies and also sold at a very low price to young people and teenagers when the new academic year begins," said Mohammad Saleh Jokar, the head of the Basij for Students and Academics, according to the semiofficial Iranian news agency Fars.

Commanders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard sternly warned anti-government protesters before Quds Day last year not to turn out for the occasion. The 2009 commemoration followed the days of violence that erupted between pro-regime and anti-government forces after disputed elections kept President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office.

This year, pressure appears to have been ratcheted up on Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, who said this week that dozens of plainclothes Basiji militiamen have occasionally surrounded his house in north Tehran since Sunday to disrupt any plans for him on take part in Quds Day.

On Wednesday night, about 50 militiamen dressed in civilian clothes and with their faces covered threw stones at the residence, dismantled security cameras and splashed paint on the walls, according to the Iranian reformist website Saham News.

The website said police stood idly by and refused to intervene.

Fatemeh Karroubi, the wife of the reformist leader, this week wrote an open letter to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denouncing what she called the "immoral actions" against her family.

"Can you name a government ruling over backward nations, the primary human rights of which are not secured, which would treat this way the family and neighbors of its political opponents?" she wrote. "Do you consider such destruction and immoral actions as permitted and legal in the name of defending the Islamic Republic?"

Despite the disruptive efforts, Mehdi Karroubi held a meeting Wednesday night with another opposition leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, during which the reformist figures stressed their support for the Palestinian cause and said that Muslims, Jews, and Christians should be able to coexist in the area of Israel and the Palestinian territories, Iranian news websites reported.