updated 3/15/2010 3:48:44 PM ET 2010-03-15T19:48:44

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hard-line government said Monday it has banned Iran's largest pro-reform political party in a new strike against an opposition movement that has largely been swept from the streets since last year's postelection turmoil.

Keeping the pressure on elsewhere, dozens of government-supporters descended on the home of Mahdi Karroubi, one of the main opposition leaders, on Sunday night, shouting slogans against him and vandalizing his property.

Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June ignited Iran's opposition, first in challenging the legitimacy of the official vote results and then in confronting the entire ruling system for supporting him and killing protesters. Besides the crackdown in the streets, authorities responded with a mass trial of pro-reform leaders and activists, restrictions on journalists and a campaign to choke off hundreds of opposition Web sites.

Under the assault, opposition parties are already up against harassment, raids on offices and the confiscation of documents and equipment. So it was not clear what additional effect Monday's announcement would have on the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

Deputy Interior Minister Solat Mortazavi said judiciary has stripped the party of its authorization to conduct political activity, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

‘We won't be coerced’
The party disputed that, saying there was no such court ruling, though it was forced to cancel its annual meeting on March 11.

"There is no court ruling banning us," spokesman Hossein Kashefi said. "We won't be coerced. We will continue our activities as a legal party ... (and) we will take the government to court for seeking to deprive Iranians of their rights as citizens."

Karroubi, who was one of two pro-reform candidates to challenge Ahmadinejad in the June 12 election, has been singled out for sporadic attacks after he revealed allegations that protesters were tortured and raped by their jailers. The claims deeply embarrassed Iran's clerical leadership.

Karroubi's wife, Fatemeh, said vandals damaged their apartment block Sunday night as police stood by and watched.

"A group of about 50 thugs on the government payroll, under the protection of security forces and police, gathered in front of our building and shouted slogans" against opposition leaders, she said on her husband's Web site Monday.

She said "corrupt government officials" were taking revenge on her husband for exposing "dirty crimes" prison officials committed against detainees.

For several months, protesters have held demonstrations coinciding with religious holidays and other national events, and authorities warned activists against any such attempt during Tuesday evening's celebrations of an ancient feast known as Chahar-Shanbe Suri.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and several other top religious leaders have denounced the event itself as incompatible with Islam.

‘Involves much harm and corruption’
The celebration is intended to purify the soul for the Iranian New Year, or Nowruz, which begins on March 21. It dates back to the time when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in ancient Persia before the advent of Islam and is frowned upon by hard-liners who say the feast contradicts Islamic traditions.

"Not only does it have no Islamic basis, it involves much harm and corruption ... that should be avoided," Khamenei was quoted as saying by the Web site dolat.ir.

State TV quoted police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam as saying that security forces and police will "arrest those who block streets or engage in dangerous acts."

The elite Revolutionary Guard and its paramilitary Basij force have also set up a base to "provide peace and order and confront any disturbance" — a clear signal that security forces will crush any possible opposition protests coinciding with the celebration.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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