Iran briefly detains daughter of ex-president Rafsanjani

Opposition websites say planned rally squelched by massive security presence; Bahrain’s opposition plots strategy before talks.

By OREN KESSLER, AP
February 21, 2011 01:46
Protestors in Iran

Iran protests 3 520. (photo credit: AP)

Iranian authorities on Sunday briefly detained the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the most powerful opposition supporter inside the country’s clerical leadership.

Faezeh Hashemi, born in 1962, has appeared at opposition protests in the past. She was detained while trying to cause unrest by chanting antigovernment slogans in one of the main streets of Tehran, the official IRNA news agency said.

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Another pro-government news service said she was released a short while later.

Iran’s opposition had called for rallies on Sunday to mark a week since the deaths of two people in clashes between security forces and opposition protesters in Tehran. Hashemi’s detention suggested crowds did try to gather on Sunday, despite severe warnings from authorities.

Citing opposition websites, Reuters reported that thousands of security personnel were deployed on the streets of Tehran and other cities to prevent opposition protesters from rallying.

One international rights group whose assessments have been right in the past said large numbers of protesters had turned out on major streets in the capital and four other cities. The New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said security forces in Tehran dispersed the crowds with gunfire and tear gas. It said one person is believed to have been killed in the capital.

Iran’s police chief, Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam, denied there were any protests.



The rights group said witnesses reported crowds of protesters at key places in the capital: the main thoroughfare of Valiasr Street and in front of the state radio and TV building. It said it also had reports of demonstrations in the major cities of Mashad, Shiraz, Isfahan and Tabriz.

Last week’s rally was called by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi in solidarity with the Egyptian uprising. It was the largest demonstration by the opposition in more than a year. Both opposition leaders have been under house arrest since putting out the call for rallies.

The detention of Rafsanjani’s daughter appeared to be another attempt to pressure the former president. Iran’s Fars news agency said she was released later on Sunday after claiming she was out shopping, rather than joining protesters.

Hard-liners have harshly criticized the moderate Rafsanjani for supporting Mousavi in his election campaign challenge to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi claims he was the rightful winner of the 2009 presidential election and that he was deprived of victory through fraud.

An Iranian opposition group claimed on Sunday that an Iranian diplomat has defected from his post in Italy and is seeking political asylum in France as a protest against the Ahmadinejad regime.

Officials at Europe-based group Green Wave said Ahmad Maleki, who is also a nephew of reformist Ayatollah Mehdi Karroubi – quit his post as first secretary at Iran’s consulate in Milan a day earlier. If confirmed, the defection would be at least the fourth by an Iranian diplomat in Europe since the start of 2010 as a protest against the country’s Islamic regime.

Green Wave, which supports such defections, says that active diplomats and other Iranian state officials are secretly working with the group.

In Bahrain, opposition figures said they want the nation’s rulers to guarantee they will back up their conciliatory words with actions, a Shi’ite leader said on Sunday as he and other activists weighed the regime’s offer for talks after nearly a week of protests and deadly clashes.

The streets in the tiny but strategically important island kingdom were calmer as efforts shifted toward political haggling over demands for the monarchy to give up its near-absolute control over key policies and positions.

But bitterness still runs deep after seesaw battles that included riot police opening fire on protesters trying to reclaim a landmark square and then pulling back to allow them to occupy the site. At least seven people have been killed and hundreds wounded since the Arab wave for change reached the Gulf last Monday.

Bahrain’s rulers appear desperate to open a political dialogue after sharp criticism from Western allies and statements by overseers of next month’s Formula One race that the unrest could force the cancellation of Bahrain’s premier international event.

Opposition leaders appear to be in no hurry to talk.

“Yesterday you kill people and today you want them to sit with you. It’s not that easy,” said a leader of the main Shi’ite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, Abdul-Jalil Khalil, adding that no talks have yet taken place.

“We are not refusing a dialogue with the crown prince, but we need guarantees they will back words with action,” Khalil said. He said the opposition’s main demand is for the resignation of the government that is responsible for this week’s bloodshed and has been led by the same prime minister – the king’s uncle – for 40 years.

Bahrain holds particular importance to Washington as the host of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is the main US military counterweight to Iran’s efforts to expand its armed forces and reach into the Gulf. Bahrain’s ruling Sunni dynasty has strong backing from other Gulf Arab leaders, who fear that Shi’ite powerhouse Iran could gain further footholds through the uprising led by Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority.

More specifically, the protest demands include abolishing the monarchy’s privileges to set policies and appoint all key political posts, along with addressing long-standing claims of discrimination and abuses against Shi’ites, who represent about 70 percent of Bahrain’s 525,000 citizens.

No violence was reported on Sunday, but many parts of the country were paralyzed by a general strike called by opposition groups and workers unions.

Hundreds of protesters spent the night back in the square after the withdrawal on Saturday of security forces, a day after firing on marchers trying to reach the site.

On Thursday, riot police stormed Pearl Square in an operation that killed five people and sharply escalated the confrontation. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa , deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, appealed for calm and political dialogue in a brief address on state TV on Saturday.

US President Barack Obama discussed the situation with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, asking him to hold those responsible for the violence accountable. He said in a statement that Bahrain must respect the “universal rights” of its people and embrace “meaningful reform.”

In the United Arab Emirates, an important Gulf ally for Bahrain, Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan urged Bahraini’s opposition groups to accept offer for talks as a way to restore “security and stability.”


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