1 Killed In Iran Protests

Wild clashes between students seeking an end to Islamic rule and hard-line vigilantes subsided in Tehran Sunday, but sporadic violence elsewhere in the country claimed the first reported fatality after almost a week of protests.

Protester Ali Moini was reportedly killed Friday night in Shiraz, 550 miles south of Tehran, the daily Nasim-e-Saba reported Sunday.

His death came after vigilantes — who pledge allegiance to Iran's supreme rule Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — attacked a demonstration held in support of the Tehran protests, the paper said. Security forces reportedly arrested 80 people.

Nightly clashes in Tehran began Tuesday and peaked Friday, when hundreds of vigilantes attempted to put down protests to Khamenei's hard-line regime by attacking crowds of onlookers with knifes and batons and storming two university dormitories, injuring more than 50 sleeping students.

The clashes were first sparked by students protesting plans to privatize universities and snowballed into broader displays of opposition to Iran's clerical establishment. They also come as the United States has stepped up pressure against the establishment over its nuclear program and alleged links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.

When asked Sunday about the anti-government protests, U.S. President George W. Bush they were a sign of an expanding free society.

"I think freedom is a powerful incentive," Bush said outside a church near his family's compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. "I believe that someday, freedom will prevail everywhere, because freedom is a powerful drive."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Saturday urged hard-liners to listen to "the voice of the Iranian people and their aspirations for democracy and the rule of law."

Tehran criticized Washington's remarks as interference in Iranian internal affairs.

"Statements (by U.S. officials) contradict international norms," state-run radio quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying Sunday.

A resident of Gohardasht, a town west of Tehran, said protests broke out late Saturday, but were stopped by some 200 anti-riot police several hours later.

The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said about 500 people, mainly teenagers, gathered in central Gohardasht chanting "freedom, freedom" and "death to the dictator," an apparent reference to Khamenei.

Any criticism of Khamenei is usually punished by imprisonment, and public calls for his death had been unheard of until this week.

The Gohardasht protests sparked clashes that saw 100 hard-line vigilantes attack protesters, the resident said.

The protests followed a telephone call by a Gohardasht resident to Los Angeles-based Persian-speaking satellite television channels the night before inviting people to protest against the ruling establishment.

About three dozen people, mostly teenage girls, were arrested, he said.

Meanwhile, police were positioned inside and around Tehran student dormitories Sunday to prevent repeated attacks by hard-line vigilantes.

Police on Saturday arrested "scores" of pro-clergy militants who smashed their way into two university dormitories and bashed students.

"We can't sleep while our classmates are in hospital beds with knife and dagger wounds to their body," said student Mohammad Qavami.

The dormitory attacks came on the fiercest night of four consecutive nights of protest in Tehran. In stark contrast, no protests or clashes were reported Saturday night.

At Tehran University's dormitory, security forces positioned themselves inside buildings overlooking the dormitory and installed monitoring cameras.

"Order has been restored to the Tehran University dormitory after several days of unrest," the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted police official Ali Asghar Mahaki as saying.

Mahaki said 22 cars, 34 motorbikes and five banks were destroyed or damaged during the week's protests, while 60 people — including 32 police officers — were wounded by stone-throwers.

The vigilante arrests were an apparent sign the regime is concerned about alienating its restive public when Washington has stepped up pressure against the establishment over its nuclear program and alleged al Qaeda links.

Iranian officials say the protests have been organized by a "group of rioters" and orchestrated by America.

The protests reflect Iran's volatile political landscape, where Khamenei's hard-line supporters — who control key government institutions in Iran — have been locked in a power struggle with the popularly elected President Mohammad Khatami.

Protesters previously criticized hard-line clerics, but the latest calls for the regime's ouster highlight public disappointment with Khatami's failure to introduce democratic reforms Iranians have been craving.

While the recent protests appear disorganized with no clear leaders, some demonstrators have vowed to keep up the pressure until next month's anniversary of the much larger and violent protests in 1999.