Iran cleric hits at opposition, dissident ayatollah

TEHRAN Tue Dec 22, 2009 7:33pm IST

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - A hardline aide to Iran's supreme leader accused the opposition on Tuesday of using the funeral of a dissident cleric to stir up "chaos" in a bid to undermine the Islamic Republic's ruling establishment.

Mojtaba Zolnour, a cleric who is a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the elite Revolutionary Guards, also criticised late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a fierce government critic who was buried on Monday.

Huge crowds of Iranians turned out for Montazeri's funeral in the holy Shi'ite city of Qom and some chanted anti-government slogans, according to reformist websites, and there were also reports of clashes between protesters and pro-government forces.

Montazeri, who died during Saturday night aged 87, was an architect of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah and was once named to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader of the Islamic state. But Montazeri fell from grace after criticising the mass execution of prisoners.

An outspoken critic of Khamenei, Khomeini's successor as supreme leader, Montazeri was viewed as the spiritual patron of the pro-reform opposition movement that led the big protests following disputed presidential elections in June.

"Ayatollah Montazeri was a deputy to Imam Khomeini who misused his power ... and meddled in the country's affairs and this served as one of the reasons for his dismissal," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Zolnour as saying.

It was the strongest and most direct criticism of Montazeri by a senior figure since his death.

"OPPORTUNISTIC INDIVIDUALS"

After Monday's funeral, one Iranian website, Ayande, said Montazeri opponents stopped his memorial service in a mosque.

The reformist Kaleme website separately said a car carrying opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi was attacked by "plainclothes men" on motorbikes as he was returning to Tehran from the funeral.

Pictures obtained by Reuters from Qom showed scuffles apparently between government and opposition supporters.

Zolnour, in a clear reference to the pro-Mousavi opposition, said: "Certain individuals ... have engaged in confronting the religious leadership."

The cleric added that during the funeral: "These opportunistic individuals ... engaged in creating chaos, breaking car windows and chanting anti-leadership slogans to destroy the Islamic establishment."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in the June vote that losing opposition candidates said was rigged kindled the biggest unrest in the Islamic Republic's 30-year history and split the political and clerical establishment.

Despite scores of arrests and security crackdowns, the protests have repeatedly flared up.

Monday's reports from Qom could not be verified independently because foreign media were banned from reporting directly on protests and were told not to travel to the funeral.

Montazeri's death occurred in the tense run-up to Ashura, a politically important Shi'ite religious commemoration that offers the opposition another opportunity to show its strength.

(Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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