Death of Iran’s Top Dissident Cleric Prompts Protests

by Farnaz Fassihi
The Wall Street Journal
December 20, 2009

BEIRUT — Iran’s top dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87 years old, died in his sleep on Saturday night, his family said, drawing supporters to the holy city of Qom on Sunday to pay their respects.

The impromptu mourning — with reformist supporters reportedly streaming in from Tehran and further afield — threatens to set the stage for another confrontation between opposition protesters and government forces. Antiregime demonstrators have used government-sanctioned holidays and Islamic holy days to rally publicly against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won contested presidential elections in June.

Spontaneous protests erupted across several cities in Iran and at university campuses, according to video circulating on the Internet Sunday afternoon. In one clip in Najaf-Adad, Mr. Montezeri’s home town, crowds chanted, “Our green Montazeri, congratulations on your freedom,” and “Montazeri, your path will continue.”

In another video, students marched at Elmo Sanaat University in Tehran holding pictures of the cleric and chanting, “It’s a day of mourning in Iran, The Green People of Iran are in mourning.”

Opposition web sites reported Iranian authorities had stepped up security in and around Qom.

The death comes at a crucial moment in this year’s antigovernment protests, the biggest since the Iranian revolution more than 30 years ago. In recent months, demonstrations have turned from protests against the handling of the election to often-angry renunciations of the Islamic regime itself, and its current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The article continues at WSJ.

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