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Night raids terrorize Iran residents: rights group

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iranian paramilitary Basij forces stage nightly raids in Tehran, invading private homes and beating residents in an attempt to stop protests against Iran’s disputed election, Human Rights Watch reported.

Iranian protesters demonstrate during a rally in solidarity with Iranians protesting against their country's disputed presidential election, in Athens June 23, 2009. REUTERS/John Kolesidis

“Witnesses are telling us that the Basijis are trashing entire streets and even neighborhoods as well as individual homes trying to stop the nightly rooftop protest chants,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a June 26 report by the New York-based group.

Twenty people have been killed, according to Iranian media, in violence after the June 12 presidential election, which losing candidate Mirhossein Mousavi says was rigged to ensure a second term for hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Government forces including Basijis clashed with demonstrators in street protests, and many Mousavi supporters took to chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) from rooftops at night -- a form of protest used in the 1979 revolution that turned Iran into an Islamic Republic.

The Human Rights Watch report quoted several unnamed residents describing the night attacks. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

“On June 22, while we were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ from the rooftops ... the Basiji entered our neighborhood and started firing live rounds into the air, in the direction of the buildings from which they believe the shouting of ‘Allahu Akbar’ is coming from,” a middle-aged resident of Vanak district said, according to the report.

A woman said Basijis climbed over walls to enter homes after they failed to kick down doors in Velenjak district when people were shouting from rooftops on June 23.

“When they entered the homes, they beat the residents. The neighbors took to cursing the Basijis and throwing stones at them to divert them from beating the residents, but then the Basijis attacked those neighbors’ houses and tried to enter them,” she was quoted as saying.

Another resident said Basijis spray-painted a sign on the doors of houses in a central district where they thought protesters had fled.

“A few minutes later, they came back and attacked the marked houses, breaking down the doors and entering them. They beat the owners, and broke the windows in the house and of their cars,” the resident said, according to the report.

Human Rights Watch said it had received similar reports from other parts of Tehran including Niavaran, Farmanieh, Saadat Abad, Shahrak Gharb, and Vanak Square -- mostly upper-class districts.

Editing by Charles Dick