TEHRAN, Iran — Security forces fired tear gas and plainclothes militiamen charged at crowds of protesters gathered near Tehran University on July 17 after a prayer sermon delivered by opposition supporter Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In a closely watched speech, Rafsanjani condemned the hard-line camp supporting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticised the June 12 election results and promoted several key opposition demands.
His speech and the clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition figure Mir Hossein Mousavi that followed suggest the political firestorm unleashed by the marred vote would continue and that the movement it had inspired remained strong.
Even before Rafsanjani's speech began, security forces were stuffing young men into waiting police vans. Helmeted Basij militiamen aboard motorcycles began pushing forward.
After the speech, downtown Tehran erupted in violence as security forces attacked crowds of demonstrators chanting, "Death to the dictator!" and "God is great."
Tear gas filled streets as they sought to enter the gates of Tehran University, which riot police had locked. The crowds then swarmed through downtown, lighting cigarettes to ward off the effects of the tear gas.
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His long-awaited sermon gave explicit clerical backing for some of the key demands of the burgeoning political movement built on Mousavi's presidential campaign and the protests that followed.
"It is impossible to restore public confidence overnight, but we have to let everyone speak out," Rafsanjani said. "We should have logical and brotherly discussions and our people will make their judgments."
"We should let our media write within the framework of the law and we should not impose restrictions on them ... We should let our media even criticise us. Our security forces, our police and other organs have to guarantee such a climate for criticism," he added. Media-monitoring groups say dozens of Iranian journalists have been jailed in the last few weeks of unrest.
He also urged respect and sympathy for the families of those killed in the violence. "We should try to console them."