New round of Iran protests spreads beyond original base

TEHRAN, Iran — Large-scale protests spread across central Iranian cities Wednesday, offering the clearest evidence that the opposition movement that emerged from the disputed June presidential election has expanded beyond its base of mostly young, educated Tehran residents to at least some segments of the country’s pious heartland.

Demonstrations Wednesday took place in cities including the provincial capital of Isfahan, Iran’s cultural center, and nearby Najafabad, the birthplace and hometown of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whose death Saturday triggered the latest round of confrontations between the opposition movement and the government.

The central region is considered by some as the conservative power base of the hard-liners long in power. Iranian authorities are alarmed by the spread of the protests. Mojataba Zolnur, a midranking cleric serving as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative to the elite and powerful Revolutionary Guard, acknowledged widespread unrest around the country.

“There were many (acts of) sedition after the Islamic revolution,” he said, according to the Web site of the right-wing newspaper Resala. “But none of them spread the seeds of doubt and hesitation among various social layers as much as the recent one.”

A reformist Web site, Rahesabz, reported that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security issued a statement banning governors from issuing permits for further memori…

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