Iran in chaos as Mousavi 'ready for martyrdom'

DEFEATED presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi told supporters last night he was "ready for martyrdom" as protestors clashed once again with police on the streets of Tehran.

Mousavi also called for a national strike if he is arrested and as darkness fell across the capital last night, rooftop cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) sounded out in an echo of the tactics used in the 1979 Islamic revolution against the Shah.

Earlier, in an act fraught with symbolic significance, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's Islamic revolution, while unrest continued across Tehran in defiance of a ban on demonstrations.

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Riot police deployed in force, firing teargas, using batons and water cannon to disperse protesters.

Witnesses said 2,000 to 3,000 were on the streets, fewer than the hundreds of thousands earlier in the week, but a clear challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who used a speech on Friday to endorse disputed election results that gave hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory. He warned of "bloodshed and chaos" if the protests continued.

Yesterday, former prime minister Mousavi , a product of the Islamic establishment, made clear he would not back down. "In a public address in south-western Tehran, Mousavi said he was ready for martyrdom and that he would continue his path," a Mousavi ally said.

A witness to the address said Mousavi, centre of protests unprecedented in the 30 years of the Islamic Republic, appeared to anticipate action against him. "Mousavi called on people to go on national strike if he is arrested," he said.

Renewing his calls for the election to be re-run in a letter to the country's top legislative body, he added: "These disgusting measures (election rigging] were planned months ahead of the vote… considering all the violations… the election should be annulled."

The scale of the demonstrations in Iran, a major oil exporter embroiled in dispute with major powers over its nuclear programme, has taken Iranians and foreign governments by surprise. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in largely peaceful protests, though state media said seven or eight protesters were shot dead last week.

The attack on Khomeini's mausoleum is likely to inflame passions among Iranians who revere the man who led a movement that overthrew the western-backed shah in 1979. It was not clear who carried out the bombing, but such an incident could be cited by authorities in justifying a crackdown.

The bomber was killed and three others were wounded, according to TV reports.

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