Iran’s opposition turned this morning’s funeral of their spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, into another huge demonstration against the government, with tens or hundreds of thousands of protesters descending on the holy city of Qom.
The regime did its best to suppress news of the funeral, banning foreign reporters from the city and imposing strict curbs on what the state-controlled domestic media could report. The BBC said its Persian television signal was being jammed. Internet connections were slowed to a crawl.
But reports filtering out of Qom said Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, the political leaders of the so-called Green movement, joined a vast throng of mourners who chanted “Dictator – Montazeri’s way will continue” and “Montazeri is not dead. It is the government which is dead.” Many wore green.
Security forces were out in strength, and there were reports of clashes as hardliners tried to stop the chanting and disrupt the ceremony.
The funeral sets the scene for what promises to be a highly-charged week in Iran as the sacred month of Muharram reaches its climax next Sunday with the holiday of Ashura when Shias mourn the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson.
The opposition is planning another huge demonstration on that day, which will now coincide with the seventh day of mourning for Montazeri – an important date in the Shia mourning ritual.