In Iran, Memorials for Dissident Cleric Morph Into Protests

BY Larisa Epatko  December 23, 2009 at 1:31 PM EST

Opposition protests and a smattering of anti-government counter-demonstrations continued in Iran on Wednesday, three days after the death of the country’s most senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

Memorial ceremonies for the cleric led to pro-opposition protests in the city of Isfahan, 200 miles southeast of Tehran, in defiance of a government crackdown on rallies protesting June’s disputed elections, the Associated Press reported.

About 50 people were arrested Wednesday in Isfahan, including pro-opposition cleric Masoud Adib, according to reformist Web sites Salaamnews and Parlemannews. News organizations had difficulty verifying the reports, since foreign journalists are banned from covering gatherings connected to the opposition.

Authorities in Iran warned against the continued protests. The Fars news agency quoted the top commander of Iranian police, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, as saying, “We advise this movement to end their activities. … Otherwise those who violate the order will be fiercely confronted, based on the law,” reported the BBC.

Montazeri died Sunday at age 87 in the holy Shiite Muslim city of Qom. Tens of thousands of Iranians rallied there to support Montazeri, a patriarch of the Islamic Revolution.

Tehran Bureau, a partnership with PBS’ Frontline, reports on what comes next after the death of Montazeri, who had become the spiritual leader of the opposition movement.

Iran observers expect the next large-scale street protests to occur on the Shiite religious holiday, Ashoura, on Dec. 27. The opposition movement has been using religious holidays and other significant calendar events for their rallies.