Tehran, June 14 (Reuters): Tension rose as night fell over Tehran today, with Iran’s police forming a protective ring around the city’s university after arresting a hardline vigilante leader accused of attacking pro-democracy demonstrators.
Police earlier warned Islamic hardliners who attacked demonstrators with clubs, knives and chains against taking the law into their own hands.
As night fell once more, police surrounded Tehran University to protect students from Islamic hardliners who burst into dormitories the previous night and beat students. A witness said there was blood on the walls of one dormitory.
Thousands of ordinary people have joined students in demonstrations started in the early hours of Wednesday to condemn both reformist President Mohammad Khatami and his conservative rivals.
Today police said they arrested hardline gang leader Saeed Askari and some of his followers after they attacked demonstrators. Askari was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2000 for trying to kill reformist politician Saeed Hajjarian, but later freed under suspicious circumstances.
Hundreds of plainclothes vigilantes attacked protesters early this morning, hauling women out of cars, beating young men with chains and firing volleys of automatic gunfire into the air while police stood by and watched.
The ISNA student news agency said 100 people had been arrested overnight in the southern city of Shiraz and one 18-year-old man had died of stab wounds. It was not clear if the death was connected with the protests.
But despite the police warning, plainclothes vigilantes once more set up roadblocks as night fell today, peering into vehicles and stopping some cars.
The US, which accuses Iran of building nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism, has hailed the protests which drew up to 3,000 people on previous nights. Conservative clerics blame Washington for stirring unrest.
The White House said in a statement that the US was “alarmed at reports of unrests and provocations by regime forces and call upon the regime to release those who have been arrested”.
While the Iranian police issued its statement, the ministry responsible for the media said it could not protect journalists.