Iran has sacked opposition leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi from his government appointed position amid renewed calls from fundamentalists that he be put on trial for his role in the post-election unrest.
Although many of his supporters were detained in the clampdown by the regime that followed the June presidential election it is the first time Mr Moussavi has been directly punished since his defeat to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad sparked the biggest social unrest in the history of the Islamic republic.
No official reason was given for his dismissal as the head of the Arts Centre - a body responsible for arts research and policy-making - a position he has held since 1998.
But Mr Ahmadi-Nejad interrupted his visit to the southern province of Fars late on Tuesday to fly back to Tehran to attend the meeting of the High Cultural Revolution Council which agreed the dismissal.
Mr Moussavi, prime minister in the 1980s, spent much of his later life working as a painter before returning to politics as the top reformist candidate in the disputed presidential election. He has become the figurehead for the anti-regime protests that followed, claiming that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad stole the election.
The arts community backed his bid to be president and some artists have boycotted official events to show their solidarity with the civil movement since the election.
Domestic media reported that many members of the Art Centre’s board of trustees might resign in protest at Mr Moussavi’s dismissal and his replacement by the poet, Ali Moallem.
The dismissal comes amid renewed calls for opposition leaders to be prosecuted.
Without mentioning Mr Moussavi by name, Kayhan newspaper, which is the main mouthpiece for Iran’s fundamentalists, on Wednesday once again called for the trial of the opposition leaders.
Analysts doubt the regime would take such a step calculating that it could reignite the protests but they admit there is enormous pressure from fundamentalists including Mr Ahmadi-Nejad to act against Mr Moussavi and other opposition leaders such as Mehdi Karroubi.
Iran’s judiciary announced last week that there was enough evidence to put the opposition leaders on trial. While a senior representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, also said on Tuesday there were “sufficient documents to deal with” the reformist leaders.
Meanwhile, the death of Iran’s most senior dissident cleric - and key opposition figure - Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri on Saturday led to clashes in the central city of Isfahan, close to his birth place, on Wednesday.
Security forces reportedly tried to stop Montazeri supporters from holding a mourning ceremony in Seyyed Mosque.
Eyewitnesses said the police used tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators in Isfahan while some people were arrested after they chanted “death to the dictator” and “Montazeri, your path will be continued”.