Tehran, June 13 (Reuters): Automatic gunfire was heard in the Iranian capital late tonight as hundreds of Iranian pro-clergy militiamen, some armed with Kalashnikov rifles, attacked groups of people protesting against clerical rule.
In the most serious violence since pro-democracy demonstrations started four days ago, witnesses also reported seeing riot police and vigilantes pulling young women out of cars and beating them with sticks.
Reuters journalist Jon Hemming said more than 100 of the Islamic militiamen, who wear no uniforms, swooped on a group of a few dozen youngsters protesting around a bonfire in a side street not far from the Tehran University dormitory which has been the focal point of demonstrations.
“They piled out of pick-up trucks and off motorbikes. Most were armed with sticks and chains but a few had Kalashnikovs,” he said.
The youths had been throwing stones and chanting slogans, including “Death to Khamenei”, a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has blamed Iran’s arch-foe the US for stirring up unrest in the country.
Washington, which labels Iran a member of an “axis of evil” along with North Korea and Iraq, and accuses it of building nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism, has welcomed the protests which have drawn up to 3,000 people on previous nights.