Image: Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, left with his nephew Ali Mousavi
AP file
Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, left, with his nephew Ali Mousavi, who was killed during protests on Sunday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/29/2009 8:51:02 AM ET 2009-12-29T13:51:02

Iranian security forces made a wave of new arrests Tuesday, including Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi's sister and a relative of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, pressing forward with a broadening crackdown on the reformist movement in the wake of deadly protests this week.

Meantime, state media reported that tens of thousands of government supporters rallied on Tuesday while the government accused Western countries of fomenting the violence.

The Foreign Ministry was notably critical of the British government. "If Britain does not stop talking nonsense it will get a slap in the mouth," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said. The British government said its envoy would respond "robustly" to any criticism.

The new arrests, along with tough criticism of the U.S. and Britain, added to rising tensions with the West, which is threatening to impose tough new sanctions over Iran's suspect nuclear program and has criticized the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in Tehran.

Iran has said as many as eight people were killed in Sunday's clashes, the bloodiest violence since the aftermath of June's disputed presidential election. There was no serious violence reported Tuesday, but opposition Web sites reported some 10 new arrests, including Dr. Noushin Ebadi.

Shirin Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her human-rights efforts in Iran, told the The Associated Press in a phone interview from London that she called her sister Monday, and that she was being punished because of the conversation.

"She was warned not to contact me," she said. "She is detained for the sake of me. She was neither politically active nor had a role in any rally."

Foreign Ministry blames tiny minority
Noushin Ebadi, a medical professor in Tehran, was arrested at her home by four intelligence agents late Monday and sent to prison, according to a statement issued by the Nobel laureate.

"It's necessary to point out that in the past two months she had been summoned several times to the Intelligence Ministry, who told her to persuade me to give up my human rights activities," the statement said. "She has been arrested solely because of my activities in human rights. ... Our country at the moment needs more than anything peace and quiet in the shadow of respect for law and any kind of behavior that goes above the law will have negative repercussions."

The opposition Web site Greenroad reported a series of additional arrests, among them Mousavi's brother-in-law, Shapour Kazemi, and Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a journalist who frequently criticizes the government. Others included the son of a prominent ayatollah, a reporter for the semi-official ILNA news agency, and several activists. Mousavi's nephew was among those killed this week.

At a news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the deadly clashes in Tehran were the work of a tiny minority, and he accused outside countries, including the U.S. and Britain, of "miscalculating" by siding with the protesters.

"Some Western countries are supporting this sort of activities. This is intervention in our internal affairs. We strongly condemn it," he said. "In this regard, the British ambassador will be summoned today."

Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. have criticized Iran's violent response to the protests. On Monday, President Barack Obama praised "the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people" while condemning Iran's Islamic government for attacking demonstrators with "the iron fist of brutality."

Traveling with Obama in Hawaii, U.S. National Security Council chief of staff Denis McDonough also said the White House is reaching out to international partners to build support for a new round of sanctions against Iran. The sanctions are to punish Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and accept a U.S.-backed plan to curb its nuclear program. The West suspects Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb — a charge Tehran denies.

Death toll unclear
Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, told state radio that U.S. support for the protesters would only harm their cause. "The praise ... will damage your reputation and clarifies the motives of this anti-religious group," he told state radio.

The exact death toll from Sunday's violence is still not clear. The government had said eight people were killed, but on Tuesday, Tehran's chief prosecutor said he was investigating only seven deaths.

One reason for the confusion is that the government has taken the bodies of five slain protesters, including Mousavi's nephew, in what appears to be an attempt to prevent activists from using their funerals as a platform for more demonstrations. The bodies remained at a coroner's office Tuesday while the government said it was still conducting autopsies.

In Sunday's protests, groups of emboldened demonstrators chanted slogans against ruling clerical establishment, casting aside a traditional taboo in the country.

In outbursts of fury rarely seen in past street confrontations, they burned squad cars and motorcycles belonging to security forces who had opened fire on the crowds, according to witness accounts, opposition Web sites and amateur videos posted on the Web.

State-run television reported eight deaths and 60 people injured. But independent confirmation of the casualties has been virtually impossible because of state restrictions on media coverage. Iranian authorities have said 300 people were arrested in the protests, but did not specify where they were detained.

Since then, authorities have restricted Internet access and SMS services, and arrested at least 10 prominent opposition activists, including a former foreign minister and a top aide to Mousavi.

A Dubai television company said Monday that it had not heard from its correspondent in Iran since he disappeared near his Tehran house on Sunday.

Dubai Media Inc. said it was in touch with Iranian officials about the fate of Redha al-Basha, a 27-year-old Syrian. Dubai Media is the government-owned parent of a handful of television stations in the emirate.

Mehmanparast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said he was unaware of any arrests of foreigners. But he said it was possible that foreign journalists who did not have proper credentials had been detained.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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