TEHRAN (Reuters) - About 50 Iranian students chanted slogans against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and damaged some property during an illegal protest at a Tehran university on Tuesday, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.
Such protests have been relatively rare in recent years in the Islamic Republic, which is locked in an escalating nuclear row with the United States and is often criticized by Western rights groups for acting against dissent at home.
The students' news agency ISNA gave a different version of the incident, quoting an activist as blaming it on guards at the small Allameh Tabatabei university. It did not mention any anti-government slogans.
"The students are not responsible for today's incident because they only wanted to go into the university but the security guards did not allow them," student activist Soleiman Mohammadi was quoted as saying by ISNA.
Mohammadi suggested the protest was mainly about students he said had been suspended illegally. He said hundreds had signed a statement demanding the dismissal of the university's head.
Fars, quoting the head of the Basij religious militia at the university, said some of the protesters had been suspended while others came from different universities in the Iranian capital.
"These people entered the social sciences faculty by breaking down the door," Alireza Baligh was quoted as saying.
"They clashed with any student who looked religious in addition to damaging the faculty's property," Baligh said. "They chanted slogans against the president and other officials and called for the release of arrested students."
There was no immediate comment from the university itself.
Earlier in October, more than 100 students scuffled with police and hardline supporters of Ahmadinejad on the campus of the much larger Tehran University outside a hall where the president was about to speak.
Liberal-minded students and academics have criticized Ahmadinejad for clamping down on dissent on Iranian campuses, although the president and his government insist they support free speech and welcome constructive opposition.
Students and activists say some of those who have spoken out against Ahmadinejad and his government in the past two years have been detained or blacklisted from university courses.
Ahmadinejad swept to office in 2005 vowing to distribute Iran's oil wealth fairly and a return to revolutionary ideals.
Critics say his policies have stoked inflation and his fiery rhetoric has provoked Western nations to impose sanctions.