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Calm in Tehran as protests fizzle out

Tehran, June 17 (Reuters): Demonstrations against Iran’s clerical rulers appeared to die down on their seventh night today with uniformed police reining in Islamic militants who attacked protesters with clubs and chains on previous nights.

Hundreds of cars once more formed thick traffic jams around Tehran University, the focus of the unrest, with drivers blaring their horns to show support for the students, but their numbers were fewer than before and there was less tension in the air.

Police guarded a cordon around the university in the centre of the city and manned roadblocks to stop plainclothes Islamic hardliners mounted on motorcycles from getting near the campus.

“Legal confrontation and disciplined behaviour by the police caused the return of calm,” the reformist Nasim-e Saba newspaper said. “If criticism and protests are recognised and follow their legal path there would not be any tension in society.”

While the Islamic militants pledge loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the police are responsible both to the government of President Mohammad Khatami and Khamenei.

But as calm returned to Tehran, there have been reports of unrest in at least seven other provincial cities.

Iran blames the US for stirring up the unrest and yesterday said it had sent an official protest to Washington for what it called blatant interference in its internal affairs. US officials have applauded the protests as a fight for freedom by the Iranian people.

The unrest was first sparked by small student protests against proposed university privatisations, but gained momentum when thousands of ordinary people flocked to the campus after calls by US-based Iranian exile opposition satellite channels.

In previous years traditionally politicised students had been largely left to go it alone and the frequent calls for action by the exile television stations had been mostly ignored.

The latest protests had no clear goal or direction with many student leaders now either in jail or outside the country.

“Every night I came here and brought my family to take part in the protests, but unfortunately because there is no leader, they are condemned to die,” said Hashem, a civil servant.

While up to 3,000 people have joined the protests, they have been small by comparison to officially sanctioned demonstrations. State television showed a group of dejected, youths with long hair, T-shirts and jeans in police custody.

Newspapers published contrite confessions by some of the 250 who have been detained in Tehran saying they had been tricked by foreign elements into attacking the state.

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