Iran's Supreme Leader is seeking to ban the Iranian equivalent of Bonfire Night in case the opposition turns it into another protest against his regime.

“Charshanbeh Suri [Red Wednesday] has no Sharia basis and causes much harm and corruption and should be avoided altogether,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared, in what opponents called a fatwa.

Millions of Iranians celebrate the festival, a prelude to the Persian new year, by lighting fires in the streets and letting off firecrackers on a night of anarchy that the regime has tolerated but never encouraged. It dates back to the Zoroastrian era but analysts said that Ayatollah Khamenei’s pronouncement had less to do with its un-Islamic origins than the fear that it would give the opposition a chance to show it was still a potent force.

Last month the regime thwarted the attempts of the Green Movement to hijack the anniversary celebrations of the Islamic revolution. The Government bussed in thousands of its supporters, filled the streets with security forces and imposed a news blackout.

Satellite photographs subsequently showed that the regime had failed even to fill Azadi Square in Tehran for the official proceedings, but it was too late to reverse the perception that the opposition was losing heart.

Analysts said that the Green Movement needed to show that it was still vigorous tonight. They argued that the opposition could take advantage of the security forces being unable to police the whole city. They said that Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa has played into the opposition’s hands because not even Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, could suppress the festival.

The regime warned that anyone arrested will be locked up throughout the new year festivities.

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