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Iran Police Vow to Show 'No Mercy' in Crackdown on Demonstrations

Iran's police chief threatened Wednesday to show "no mercy" in crushing any new opposition protests and said more than 500 demonstrators have been arrested in the wake of this week's deadly clashes.

At least eight people were killed in street violence Sunday, the country's worst unrest since the aftermath of the disputed presidential election on June 12. One of those killed was the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was buried Wednesday in a hastily organized ceremony.

Authorities had taken his body from the hospital earlier in the week in what was seen as an attempt to prevent the funeral from turning into another pro-opposition protest. Mousavi and other family members attended the funeral for Ali Mousavi, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Tens of thousands of hard-liner government supporters turned out for state-sponsored rallies Wednesday to try to show strength against the pro-reform opposition movement. At rallies in the cities of Shiraz, Arak, Qom, Tehran and several others, they chanted "Death to Opponents" of the Islamic establishment. The government gave all civil servants and employees a day off to attend the rallies and organized buses to transport groups of schoolchildren and supporters from outlying rural areas to the protests.

Police chief Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam made a harsh threat to protesters to stay off the streets.

"In dealing with previous protests, police showed leniency. But given that these opponents are seeking to topple (the ruling system), there will be no mercy," Moghaddam said, according to IRNA. "We will take severe action. The era of tolerance is over. Anyone attending such rallies will be crushed."

He said more than 500 protesters who took part in Sunday's demonstrations have been arrested but the number may be higher since hardline Basij militiamen and intelligence agents may have apprehended more people on their own.

There are increasing fears Mousavi could also be arrested, following detentions a number of prominent activists and the sister of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi.

The government has also limited the movement of a leading opposition figure, Mahdi Karroubi, by refusing to protect him when he leaves his home.

Karroubi and Mousavi were the two defeated reformist candidates in the disputed June election, which set off the worst unrest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Authorities are also tightly restricting media coverage of street rallies, Internet access in the country is sporadic, as are cell phone and text messaging services.

Sunday's deadly protests coincided with Ashoura, the most solemn day of the year for Shiite Muslims. The observance commemorates the 7th-century death in battle of one of Shiite Islam's most beloved saints, and it conveys a message of sacrifice in the face of repression.

Hard-liners are especially furious that some of the protesters insulted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, casting aside a taboo on personal criticism of the leader. The government has said the protesters are a tiny minority, and accused the U.S. and Britain of organizing the opposition.

The hard-line criticism has become increasingly vocal, with some activists threatening to take the law into their own hands.

The arrests, along with the 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.

On Wednesday the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the government to keep security forces from using excessive force. She said she was "shocked by the upsurge in deaths, injuries and arrests" and stressed the people have the right to peacefully protest without being beaten and thrown into jail.