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Iran protests grow louder

Tehran, June 12 (Reuters): Thousands of Iranians protested against their Muslim clerical rulers for a second night as the biggest anti-establishment demonstrations for months appeared to gather momentum.

Voicing anger at moderate President Mohammad Khatami as well as the hardline clerics who have blocked his attempts at reform, some 3,000 people gathered around a central Tehran University dormitory early today chanting “Death to dictators”.

Police and Islamic militia prevented demonstrators from reaching the campus, the scene of violent unrest four years ago, and peacefully dispersed the main crowd in the early hours.

But after dawn students seized three plainclothes Islamic militiamen when they entered the campus during clashes.

“Three people were captured, two of them said they were students, but none of the students knows them,” a student present at the time said. “They had walkie-talkies, chains, gas spray and their pockets were full of stones.” At least one student was killed, 20 injured and dozens arrested when militiamen attacked the same dormitory in 1999.

“We will hand them over. The only thing we want in return are guarantees for the safety of the dormitories,” the student said. Some 80 people were arrested at a similar protest yesterday.

The unrest comes as Iran faces mounting pressure from Washington which accuses it of sponsoring terrorism and building nuclear weapons. US officials have said they support what they see as the Iranian people’s desire for political change.

Analysts predicted more protests as the July 9 anniversary of the 1999 unrest approached.

The crowd’s chants were directed against Iran’s whole Islamic establishment — both the conservative clerics and the moderates around Khatami.

“This is a reflection of pent-up anger and if it is not effectively dealt with by the authorities it could spread and grow,” said one local analyst who declined to be named.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top figure in Iran’s clerical establishment, blamed Washington today for stirring up trouble in Iran.

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