Iran Arrests Anti-Government Activists; Bush Says Protests Show Desire for Freedom

Police arrested four activists accused of involvement in days of street protests against Iran (search)'s Islamic government, and President Bush said Sunday that the demonstrations showed a yearning for freedom.

The protests in the capital eased -- as did the clashes sparked by hard-liners trying to suppress the demonstrators -- but sporadic violence elsewhere claimed the first reported fatality. Police deployed in and around student dormitories throughout Tehran (search) to prevent any repeat of last week's violence, in which pro-clerical militants wielding clubs and knives clashed with students.

The arrests of the anti-government activists came after the government arrested scores of pro-clerical militants, an apparent attempt to rein in the unrest from both sides before the protests get out of control.

The anti-government protests, which began on Tuesday, were the largest in months and included unprecedented chants calling for the death of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (search). The hard-line clerics who hold power in Iran are concerned about increasing discontent, particularly among the youth, at a time when the United States is stepping up pressure on Iran.

Bush said Sunday that the protests were a sign of an expanding free society.

"I think freedom is a powerful incentive," Bush said. "I believe that someday, freedom will prevail everywhere, because freedom is a powerful drive."

Iranian officials say the protests have been orchestrated by America and have denounced previous remarks by the Bush administration as interference in its internal affairs.

The United States -- whose military now controls Iran's two largest neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan -- has stepped up accusations in recent days that Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and is harboring al-Qaida members. Iran denies both claims.

On Monday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog is to release its report on Iranian nuclear sites it visited this year. Washington wants the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare Iran in violation on non-proliferation treaties; Iran denies any violations, says its program is entirely peaceful and says it would allow more intense inspections under certain conditions.

The eruption of student protests has only added to the worries of Iran's clerics.

The hard-line judiciary ordered the four activists' arrests on charges of provoking the student-led protests.

Mohsen Sazegara and his son, Vahid, were taken to jail Sunday while two others -- Reza Alijani and Taqi Rahmani -- were arrested late Saturday, family members said.

"Plainclothes security forces came to our house and took my husband and son with them. They showed a judiciary order authorizing the arrest on charges of provoking students," Sazegara's wife, Soheila Hamidniya, told The Associated Press.

Police took papers, CDs, a family photo album and foreign cash belonging to her husband, who is protesting the arrest by refusing to eat, she said.

The death of the anti-government protester happened Friday night in Shiraz, 550 miles south of Tehran, where militants attacked a demonstrators, the daily Nasim-e-Saba reported Sunday. Security forces reportedly arrested 80 people.

Further protests broke out late Saturday in the town of Gohardasht, west of Tehran, but were stopped by 200 anti-riot police hours later, a resident said.

The Gohardasht protests sparked clashes that saw 100 hard-liners attack protesters, the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity. About three dozen people, mostly teenage girls, were arrested, he said.

Nightly clashes in Tehran began Tuesday and peaked Friday, when hundreds of hard-liners tried to put down protests to Khamenei's regime by attacking crowds of onlookers with knifes and batons and storming two university dormitories, injuring more than 50 sleeping students.

The student demonstrations began as a protest against plans to privatize universities and snowballed into displays of opposition to Iran's religious establishment.

In Tehran on Sunday, police deployed inside and around student dormitories to prevent attacks by the hard-liners.

"Order has been restored to the Tehran University dormitory after several days of unrest," the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted police official Ali Asghar Mahaki as saying.

Mahaki said 22 cars, 34 motorbikes and five banks were destroyed or damaged last week, while 60 people -- including 32 police officers -- were injured by stone-throwers.