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Page last updated at 16:08 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Supporters of Iran's government stage big rallies

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Pro-government demonstrators gathered in Tehran

Tens of thousands of Iranians have protested in favour of their government in major cities across the country, following recent opposition protests.

Government supporters marched in Tehran, Shiraz, Qom and elsewhere, chanting "Death to opponents!"

The rallies - reportedly organised by the government - were a response to the opposition demonstrations on Sunday.

Tehran has accused Western powers of stirring-up the protests which left at least eight people dead.

RECENT UNREST IN IRAN
19 Dec: Influential dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri dies aged 87
21 Dec: Tens of thousands attend his funeral in Qom; reports of clashes between opposition supporters and security forces
22 Dec: Further confrontations reported in Qom
23 Dec: More clashes reported in city of Isfahan as memorial is held
24 Dec: Iran reportedly bans further memorial services for Montazeri except in his birthplace and Qom
26 Dec: Clashes reported in central and northern Tehran
27 Dec: At least eight dead following anti-government protests in Tehran; 300 reported arrested

Among those killed was the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Seyed Ali was buried on Wednesday, and opposition websites reported that family members had been ordered to hold a quiet funeral to avoid further protests.

The authorities deny opposition claims that police shot the protesters on Sunday.

Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the US have all condemned the violence.

Hundreds of people, including a number of opposition figures, have been arrested since Sunday - one of the most violent protests since June's disputed presidential election.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in the poll, which the opposition believes was rigged.

'Pawns of enemies'

Opposition websites said the pro-government rallies were sponsored by the authorities as a show of force against the regime's opponents.

Photo obtained by AP shows protesters in Tehran, 27 Dec
The official death toll from the latest protests is the highest since June

They say that state-owned companies provided transport for their employees to take part in the demonstrations and that traditional bazaars were closed for the day in some cities.

Iran's hardliners have reacted angrily to the opposition protests staged during the Shia festival of Ashura.

"The offensive slogans have made the pious Iranian nation sad and the Zionist world happy," the government said in a statement.

It described the opposition as "pawns of the enemies" who "have furnished a red carpet for the foreigners who [are] aiming at the nation's security".

Some 500 people have been arrested since Sunday's protest, Iran's police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the Iranian authorities are clearly seeking to throw down a gauntlet to the opposition.

He says they are now embarking upon a two-pronged assault on the opposition:

  • the undiplomatic attacks on Britain, the US and Israel - blaming them for fermenting the political unrest inside Iran - represents a clear attempt to paint opposition forces as the puppets of foreign powers

• but increasingly there is also an ominous religious tone to the government attacks as well; a branding of at least some of the opposition demonstrators as "enemies of God" - a label which could be used to justify their deaths.

All this makes it even harder for foreign governments to grapple with the Iranian authorities, our correspondent adds.



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