| An Iranian exile protests in Paris on Wednesday against a mass round-up of Left-wing Iranian exiles, including their leader Maryam Rajavi. (AFP)
Tehran, June 18 (Reuters): Hundreds of Iranians demanding more freedom demonstrated for the eighth consecutive night early today and scores of protesters were arrested and some injured in rallies in seven cities.
The US backs the protests as a cry for freedom from a people whose government US officials accuse of being part of an “axis of evil” for allegedly developing nuclear arms, backing terrorism and trying to destabilise post-war Iraq.
Protesters in Tehran, wary of possible beatings from hardline Islamic vigilantes which marked previous nights, kept to their cars and sounded their horns in traffic jams around the city’s university — the focus of the unrest.
The official Irna news agency reported protests in six other cities in which scores were arrested and several injured.
But numbers taking part in the demonstrations — among the largest and most violent for four years — appeared to be dwindling.
Tension was lower in Tehran, apparently due to the intervention of uniformed police who protected students from attacks by Islamic vigilantes and arrested some vigilante leaders.
“Confronting the plainclothes and wilful people has started, some of them have been arrested and it will continue,” intelligence minister Ali Yunesi said, quoted by Irna, referring to arrests of hardline vigilantes.
Iran’s government and most parliamentary deputies accused Washington of blatant interference in Iran’s internal affairs. Hardline clerics say they have detected a US-inspired plot.
“America has pinned its hope on the unrest, but learned very quickly that it is making a mistake,” Yunesi said.
But demonstrators said they were not there for Washington.
“If coming to the streets will give me more freedom, I don’t care who calls for it, I will come here and tell all my friends to come with me,” said teenage high school student Amir.
Protesters have expressed anger at moderate President Mohammad Khatami as well as unelected conservative clerics who have blocked his efforts to reform Iran’s “Islamic democracy”.
Irna said at least 90 people had been arrested in the past two days in the northwestern city of Tabriz where riot police surrounded the university there.
Police used tear gas to break up protests in the southern city of Yazd and the windows of banks, shops and a judiciary building were smashed in Karaj, west of Tehran.
Analysts predict that with most student leaders in jail or having fled the country after campus protests in 1999 and 2002, the unrest was likely to fizzle out.
While the President has remained silent on the protests, his younger brother and leading reformist deputy, Mohammad Reza Khatami, said Iran should not use Washington as a scapegoat.
Tehran accused the UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday of tailoring a damning report to suit Washington's view that Iran is using a civil power programme to obtain nuclear arms via the back door.
But a senior U.S. envoy to the United Nations countered with charges that Iran had violated non-proliferation treaties and was stalling inspection efforts.
The governing board of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) debated a report claiming that Iran repeatedly breached anti-nuclear treaties over the last 12 years by failing to declare the import, processing and storage of nuclear materials.
”If Iran's intentions are peaceful, why did it engage in a long-term pattern of safeguards violations and evasions regarding a number of its nuclear...activities,” Kenneth Brill, U.S. ambassador to the UN in Vienna, told the governing body.
While Brill used the term“violations,” the IAEA restricts its charge to one of“failure to comply” with regulations.
But Ali Salehi, Iran's representative to the IAEA, told the 35-nation board of governors that the report“could have been crafted in a more partial, fair and balanced manner”.