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Iran fires opposition leader from government post

In what appear to be reprisals for new anti-regime protests, the Iranian government yesterday fired opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from his government post and its supporters ransacked the office of an opposition cleric.

The apparent backlash followed large demonstrations on Monday in the holy city of Qom, where the funeral of dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri turned into a protest against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yesterday morning, according to reports on Iranian opposition websites, members of the volunteer Basij militia, whose members are loyal to the President, stormed a building in Qom, ransacked the office of another dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Youssef Sanei, broke the windows, beat up his staff and posted pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the walls. Ayatollah Sanei incurred the wrath of the regime with a religious edict issued soon after the June election proclaiming Mr. Ahmadinejad's presidency illegitimate and declaring that "it is forbidden to co-operate with his government."

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The funeral of Ayatollah Montazeri, which reportedly drew hundreds of anti-government protesters, appeared to continue a wave of protests that began on Dec. 7, Iran's Students Day, triggered by growing frustration with the economic and social policies of Mr. Ahmadinejad, the lack of transparency in his re-election and his repression of the opposition.

That repression continued yesterday as a committee chaired by Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed Mr. Mousavi, his presidential opponent and a moderate reformist, from his only remaining government position. The Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution announced that it had dismissed Mr. Mousavi as head of the Academy of Art, a position he had held since the academy, the official guardian of Iranian culture, was established in 1999.

The dismissal was the latest in a series of actions that have closed down most independent newspapers and blogs, swept opposition figures from government bodies and cemented the dominance of Mr. Ahmadinejad's coalition over public life.

Yesterday's events in Qom follow the admission by Iranian authorities last week that prison guards had beaten to death at least three of the estimated 73 people killed in anti-government protests over the summer.

Apparently fearing for the safety of protesters, Ayatollah Montazeri's son announced on websites that Iranians should refrain from taking part in traditional mourning ceremonies on the third and seventh days after the death of his father. Such ceremonies have historically developed into large anti-government demonstrations.

However, he said nothing about the ceremony traditionally held 40 days after the funeral, an event that has been a flashpoint for protests since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A particularly explicit rhetorical attack against Mr. Ahmadinejad was launched yesterday by Mehdi Karroubi, a leading figure in the reformist government of the 1990s, who used an interview with The Times of London to denounce the President as a traitor to the principles of the Islamic Revolution and a violator of Iran's constitution.

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However, Mr. Karroubi warned that the protest movement would be endangered if foreign governments tried to get involved, especially by using the nuclear-research issue to try to push for regime change. That, he said, would "pave the way for suppression and accusations of dependence on foreigners."

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