Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday staged state-sponsored demonstrations throughout the country against the opposition, dpa reported.
State television showed footage of the demonstrations in several Iranian cities, where people shouted slogans against the opposition and in favour of the president after unrest at the weekend in which police clashed with opposition protestors.
Tens of thousands also gathered in Tehran to counter the anti-Ahmadinejad protests held Sunday during the Shiite mourning ceremonies of Ashura.
"Death to Moussavi" was the main slogan heard at the Tehran demonstration, made in reference to Mir Hossein Moussavi, one of the main opposition leaders who lost to Ahmadinejad in disputed June elections.
There were unconfirmed reports that Ahmadinejad supporters planned to stage a sit-in in front of one of Moussavi's offices until he is arrested.
The crowd in Tehran also criticized the cleric Mehdi Karroubi, who heads the opposition party Etemad Melli (National Trust).
The demonstrators urged the judiciary to allow them to take revenge on opponents for having marred the holy day of Ashura.
"There should be a difference between the Hezbollah "party of God" and Hezb'e Sheytan [party of the devil]," Ayatollah Mehdi Aalamolhoda said in a speech at the main gathering in Enqelab square in central Tehran.
Aalamolhoda, who is the Friday prayer leader in the religious city of Mashad and a supporter of Ahmadinejad, termed those undermining the Islamic system as blasphemous and enemies of God.
"The Iranian judiciary should declare a deadline for the opposition leaders to repent their actions, or otherwise, they would be branded an enemies of God and face the relevant consequences," said the ayatollah, referring to the death sentence, the punishment for such offenders.
The crowd shouted its approval of the ayatollah's demand and cried, "Moussavi and Karroubi should be executed."
Aalamolhoda added that Ahmadinejad's supporters and the establishment should no longer only react to the opposition groups' moves but rather take the initiative.
The demonstration in Tehran was broadcast live on four state television channels, which have this week devoted most of their programming to criticizing the opposition as mercenaries of foreign states.
Iran's police chief said the authorities would adopt a harsher posture with protestors.
"During last Sunday's protests, 120 police were injured with 60 of them still hospitalized, and two police cars and several motorbikes were burned by the protestors," General Ismaeil Ahmadi-Moqaddam told reporters Wednesday.
"Nowhere in the world are police beaten up by protestors," he said. "From now on, both police and the judiciary will more harshly confront them."
The general denied that government authorities had driven a police car into a crowd on Sunday, hitting several protestors and killing at least two of them, as purportedly shown on video posted on the internet.
"During the unrest, one car that had previously been stolen hit two people and killed them, and police are investigating the case," he said.
He said 500 protestors were arrested by the police and separate arrests were also carried out by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Opposition websites had reported that at least 800 protestors were arrested, including 300 in Tehran, during the latest unrest to rock Iran since the presidential election and at least 18 dissidents close to Moussavi's Green Movement were detained Monday and Tuesday.
At least eight people were reported killed Sunday, including Moussavi's 35-year-old nephew, who, according to the police chief, was shot dead by unknown perpetrators in a stolen car.