TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian security forces clashed with supporters of dead dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in the northwestern city of Zanjan on Thursday, a reformist website said.
The authorities have banned memorial gatherings for Montazeri in most parts of Iran, reformist websites said, days ahead of an emotive Shi’ite ritual that may draw more opposition protests.
The Jaras website said some people were injured and arrests made when the security services intervened to enforce the ban in Zanjan.
There was no immediate comment from the authorities.
On Wednesday, an Iranian official denied reports by opposition websites of clashes between mourners and police in the central city of Isfahan, one of Iran’s biggest cities.
There were also reports of scuffles in his nearby hometown, Najafabad.
Six months after a disputed election plunged the Islamic Republic into political turmoil, tension has mounted in the major oil producer after the death on Saturday of Montazeri, 87.
On Thursday Jaras quoted an eyewitness as saying mourners held a memorial service in the street because the mosque was locked.
It said a number of people were “severely wounded” and a “large number” were arrested among the crowd who chanted anti-government slogans such as “Oh Hossein, Mirhossein” in reference to opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, “Montazeri congratulations on your freedom,” and “Down with the dictator.”
Vast crowds attended the pro-opposition cleric’s funeral procession in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom on Monday, some chanting anti-government slogans.
Montazeri’s death occurred in the tense run-up to Ashura on December 27, a politically important Shi’ite religious commemoration that offers the opposition another opportunity to show its strength. That day coincides with the seventh day of mourning for Montazeri, when more memorial services are usually held.
“According to an announcement by the Supreme National Security Council, with the exception of Qom and Najafabad, the holding of any meeting (memorial service) for Montazeri will be forbidden throughout the country,” the Kaleme website said.
Another pro-reform website, Parlemannews, also carried the report.
The semi-official Fars news agency reported a reformist former government spokesman detained after the disputed June presidential poll, which triggered huge opposition protests, had been sentenced to six years in jail.
It said Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, who backed opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in the vote, was sentenced by a court on charges including acting against national security, propaganda against the Islamic system and possessing classified documents.
“Based on the court’s decision Ramezanzadeh was given a six-year obligatory jail sentence,” Fars quoted a Revolutionary court statement as saying. It did not say when the verdict was issued. Revolutionary courts usually handle security cases.
Thousands of people were arrested after the poll, which the opposition says was rigged in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s favor. Most of them have since been freed, but more than 80 have received jail sentences of up to 15 years in connection with protests and violence after the vote, the judiciary says.
Ahmadinejad’s re-election kindled the biggest unrest in the Islamic state’s 30-year history and split the political and clerical establishment.
The authorities deny poll rigging charges and have portrayed the protests that erupted after the poll as a foreign-backed bid to topple the Islamic establishment, accusing leading reformers of fomenting post-election violence.
Despite scores of arrests and security crackdowns, opposition protests have repeatedly flared up since the vote.
Montazeri, an architect of the 1979 Islamic revolution and a spiritual patron of the pro-Mousavi movement, was a fierce critic of the hardline clerical establishment who denounced Ahmadinejad’s re-election as fraudulent.
The cleric was once named to succeed late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader, but he fell from grace after criticizing the mass execution of prisoners in the late 1980s.
On Wednesday, opposition websites said security forces armed with batons and tear gas clashed with Montazeri supporters in Isfahan and Najafabad.
But a senior local official denied reports of clashes in Isfahan, blaming foreign media of “staging a psychological war” against the clerical establishment by publishing such reports.
Foreign media have been banned from reporting directly on protests and were told not to travel to Qom after Montazeri’s death.
Police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moqadam said his force would “firmly” confront protesters if they caused destruction and disorder, the official IRNA news agency reported.
“As long as the behavior of the protesters is not accompanied with lawlessness, destruction and rebellion we will be satisfied with issuing warnings,” he told reporters.
Iranian media said Tehran would from next month ban banknotes which have been scribbled upon, a move one Iranian website said was in response to the appearance of political slogans on some of them.
Graffiti in support of Mousavi, such as “Oh Hossein, Mirhossein,” have occasionally cropped up on banknotes since the election.
“Banknotes on which there are writings or are stamped or have any additional signs will be invalid,” the Jam-e Jam daily quoted central bank official Ebrahim Darvishi as saying.
The Ayande website, seen as close to conservative politician Mohsen Rezaie, said in a headline about the move: “The central bank’s reaction to the writing of slogans on banknotes.”
On one 20,000-rial (around $2) banknote seen this week, an opposition supporter had written: “Montazeri is not dead.”
Editing by Matthew Jones