Iran’s security forces clashed with opposition supporters on Thursday as they gathered to commemorate those killed in the post-election violence.

The clashes – the first serious disturbance for almost a fortnight – prevented a mourning ceremony called by opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who claims the June 12 presidential election was stolen from him. The authorities had denied the organisers permission to hold the rally.

Mr Moussavi joined his supporters at Behesht-e Zahra cemetery, southern Tehran. However, the police acted swiftly to force him away from the scene. They then used teargas to stop the memorial rally, which was focused on the 40th day since the death of Neda Agha Soltan, a 26-year-old female student who was shot in the chest in one of the deadliest rallies. The gruesome footage of Ms Agha-Soltan’s death made her an international symbol of the protests.

Eyewitnesses said gun shots were heard on Thursday in Behesht-e Zahra, where most of those killed in the recent unrest are buried. As the police were trying to block the roads leading to Ms Agha-Soltan’s grave, some protesters, including Jafar Panahi, a prominent film director, were reportedly arrested.

“There are thousands of people chanting slogans in favour of Moussavi. Hundreds of riot police around Mosala and nearby streets are trying to disperse them,” one witness told Reuters, the news agency.

“Plainclothes agents and riot police hit protesters with batons and police fired tear gas,” said a pro-reform website.

At least 20 people died – human rights activists and politicians believe the casualties are far higher – and hundreds were detained in the immediate aftermath of the disputed poll, won by Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad. It is the worst social unrest in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic.

The deaths of several young protesters, some of whom allegedly died after being tortured in jail, have fuelled public anger over the authorities’ clampdown.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is scheduled to be inaugurated next Wednesday, and the authorities will be keen to avoid any fresh unrest.

Mr Moussavi had earlier asked for a permit to hold a slogan-free rally in Tehran, specifically to mourn the dead. However, the interior ministry refused to allow any gathering in protest at the election results.

The opposition has been trying to use religious venues and occasions, such as Friday prayer, mosques and cemeteries, after being denied official permission to hold demonstrations. Security forces, however, are usually quickly stationed in the designated places to disperse the crowd, and show little tolerance to those refusing to leave.

Hundreds of protesters are still in jail even though the regime, under public pressure, freed more than 100 prisoners this week.

Iran has announced that it will on Saturday begin the trials of some of those detained on charges that include carrying weapons and explosives.

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