Iran clamps down ahead of planned pro-Egypt rally

Thousands gather in central Tehran, chant "death to the dictator"; 2 opposition leaders under house arrest; police out in heavy numbers to prevent rallies; SMS service reportedly cut.

Mousavi supporter 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mousavi supporter 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iranian security forces cut phone lines and blockaded the home of an opposition leader Monday in attempts to stop him attending a planned rally in support of Egypt's uprising, a reformist website reported.
Iranian authorities have poured police and militiamen onto the streets of Tehran to challenge any pro-Egypt marches, which officials worry could turn into demonstrations against Iran's ruling system.
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Thousands gathered in central Tehran Monday chanting "Death to the dictator," and "Down with the Taliban, in Cairo and Tehran," The Washington Post reported.
Protesters were overwhelming security forces who were out in heavy force at the illegal protest, although it was not clear how many demonstrators had gathered, according to the report.
Cellular SMS messaging service was cut in certain parts of Tehran as protests got underway, BBC Farsi reported.
The massive security clampdown is reminiscent of the backlash that crushed a wave of protests after the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009. But opposition supporters revived a tactic from the unrest, shouting "Allahu Akbar," or God is Great, from rooftops and balconies into the early hours Monday in a sign of defiance toward Iran's leadership.
The renewed protests coincided with plans for demonstrations across the Gulf in tiny Bahrain, which has cultural and religious ties to Iran because of its majority Shi'ite Muslim population., an Iranian reformist website, said police stationed several cars in front of the home of Mir Hossein Mousavi ahead of the demonstration called for later Monday in central Tehran. Mousavi and fellow opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since last week.
Witnesses said riot police, many on motorbikes, also fanned out across central Tehran to prevent any demonstration. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from authorities.
The uprising in Egypt opened a rare chance for the political gambit by Iran's opposition.
Ahmadinejad claimed the Egyptians who toppled president Hosni Mubarak took inspiration from Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought down a Western-backed monarchy. Iran's opposition movement used the comments to push the government into a corner and request permission to march in support of Egypt's protesters.
Iranian officials quickly backpedaled and said no pro-Egypt rallies were allowed — bringing sharp criticism from the White House and others.
On Sunday, the US State Department sent Twitter messages in Farsi in the hopes of reaching social media users in Iran. The first message told Iranians: "We want to join in your conversation."
The following posts noted the inconsistencies of Iran's government supporting Egypt's popular uprising but stifling opposition at home.
The US called on Iran "to allow people to enjoy same universal rights to peacefully assemble, demonstrate as in Cairo."
Last week, the State Department launched an Arabic Twitter feed in an effort to communicate with the Egyptian protesters.