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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 June, 2003, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Protests spread beyond Tehran
Tehran demonstrators flash Victory signs this week
Police arrests have not stopped the rallies
Several thousand people demonstrated against Iran's ruling clergy on Monday night in the Tehran University area but numbers were down on the previous six nights as police made their presence felt.

Beyond the capital, however, demonstrations have reportedly spread to at least seven provincial cities.

One reformist newspaper argued on Tuesday that the night had passed more peacefully in the capital because the police were doing more to prevent hardline Islamic militias from making new attacks on the protesters.

Correspondents who spoke to people at the latest protests found a continuing mood of defiance despite the arrests of scores of people over the past week.

"We will come out onto the streets again," one teacher, named only as Mina, told Reuters news agency. "This will continue because we want freedom."

Cars continued to honk their support for the mainly student protesters during the night but there was less chanting of political slogans in contrast to earlier rallies at which cries of "Death to [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei", the supreme spiritual leader, could be heard.

Police reinforcements stream into Tehran
Police were accused early on of letting the militias run riot

The Iranian Government strongly protested on Monday over what it called United States "interference" in its internal affairs following comment by President George W Bush in which he spoke of "the beginnings of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran".

A number of cabinet ministers were due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the protests situation.

The government is also embroiled this week in a dispute with the International Atomic Energy Agency whose demand for more access to Iran's burgeoning nuclear programme has been rejected.

Rallies nationwide

Reports are coming in of unrest in the provincial cities of Hamedan, Mashhad, Karaj, Isfahan, Kerman, Kermanshahr and Tabriz.

Clashes overnight in Hamedan resulted in 10 police officers being injured and 12 arrests, the Iranian student news agency Isna reports.

Map of Iran including provincial cities
The state news agency Irna said the "small" rallies in the other six cities were down to solidarity with Tehran students in the face of militia attacks and it blamed unrest there on "thugs", homeless people and drug addicts.

Irna has been reporting this week that the student protests in Tehran are essentially directed against university privatisation plans.

Unrest reported in an eighth city, Shiraz, on Saturday led to one person being stabbed to death - the only death linked to the current protests

Protesters have been buoyed by an influential group of 248 dissidents who on Sunday issued an unprecedented declaration defending the right to criticise their leaders.

"Sitting or making individuals sit in the position of divine and absolute power is a clear heresy towards God and a clear affront to human dignity," said the declaration.

'Confessions'

State television has been showing Tehran students in police custody - dejected-looking youths with long hair, T-shirts and jeans.

We are not risking our lives here for reforming this murderous system. We want a complete overthrow of the Islamic republic and establishing a proper democracy like the one in UK or USA
Farhad, Iran

Newspapers carry "confessions" by the detainees in which they say they were tricked by foreign elements into attacking the state.

Members of the Ansar-e Hezbollah religious militia, which led an attack on students on a university dormitory on Friday night which left 80 people injured, have also been arrested along with its leader, Said Asgar.

For the reformist newspaper Nasim-e Saba, the clampdown on the militia has been a hopeful sign.

It said that "legal confrontation and disciplined behaviour by the police" had restored calm.

But local observers say that the situation is still highly inflammable, with the anniversary of the student riots of 1999 approaching on "18 Tir", or 9 July.

One students' body, the Islamic Association of Students, has sought permission to mark the day with a "free speech" march from Tehran University to the Iranian parliament, Iran's Fars news agency reports.

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