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Nine feared dead as police open fire on Iran protesters

CRACKS appeared in the Islamic regime's control of Iran yesterday as security forces failed to quell protests across the country.

Demonstrators set fire to banks and government buildings, including local headquarters of the feared Basij militia, and there were reports that some police officers were refusing orders to shoot into the crowds.

Opposition groups said at least nine people were killed in Tehran and Tabriz as the Basij and other regime forces used gunfire and tear gas in an unsuccessful attempt to clear crowds of people chanting slogans. Police sources are reporting five people dead.

Some protesters built barricades and many overturned cars and motorcycles before setting them alight. Videos and photographs posted online and emailed abroad by opposition groups showed scenes of conflict.

One was of an alleged shooting victim, a young protester, who was being comforted on the ground on Keshavarz Boulevard with blood pouring from his head.

According to the Jaras website, those around him were shouting: "We will kill those who killed our brothers."

Another of the five victims in Tehran was an elderly man, who also received gunshot wounds to the head.

Among those killed was the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the pro-reform former prime minister whose defeat in presidential elections by the hardline incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, triggered weeks of protests in June.

One website said Ali Habibi Mousavi had been shot in the chest during clashes in Enghelab Square "and was martyred after he was taken to Ebnesina hospital".

Police and security forces had been expecting trouble yesterday, the seventh day of mourning for the death of Iran's reformist cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Hossein Montazeri.

It was also the politically symbolic commemoration of Ashura, when Shia Muslims remember the Imam Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, who they believe was martyred by the tyrannical Caliph Yazid.

The authorities had issued warnings, roundly ignored, that the commemorations should not be tainted with anti-regime demonstrations. Attempts to force back demonstrators -- chanting, "Death to the dictator" and "Khamenei will be toppled"-- with tear gas failed.

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Baton charges and shots fired into the air also had little effect, leading to the order to shoot directly into the crowds, according to opposition websites.

Three people died in the first volley. There were also dozens of injuries, with victims reportedly leaving hospital as soon as they were treated to avoid being identified by the authorities. Protesters then began building barricades and burning them.

Initially, Tehran's head of police, Azizollah Rajabzadeh, denied there had been any shootings or any deaths. But later state television reported: "As rioters stepped up provocation and destruction, Imam Hossein mourners stood against these evil-doings and clashes happened at some spots in the city between the two groups. In these clashes, several people from the two sides were killed and several wounded."

State media confirmed that hundreds of people had been arrested and buildings had been set on fire.

Protests were also reported in other cities, such as Tabriz, where four more people were said to have been killed.

Last night France issued the first international condemnation of the violence.

"France condemns the arbitrary arrests and the violent actions committed against simple protesters who came to defend their right to freedom of expression and their desire for democracy," a foreign ministry statement said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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