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As night falls, Tehran still ablaze

A level of rioting unseen since the 1979 revolution continued into the night; rioting also reported in southern cities of Zahedan and Shiraz.

Dozens of riot police clashed with demonstrators at the conjunction of the ritzy Jordan Avenue, a boulevard of boutiques and embassies, and the open cement expanse of a highway.

"I've had the back of my car windows smashed in by rocks, the side is badly grazed and the only thing that saved me from a rock aimed straight at me was how strong my windshield is," a heavily made-up blonde demonstrator said as she sat in the Renault 206 car, a cigarette dangling from her hand, waiting for the backed up cars to move. "And about an hour ago, 50 protesters kicked to death an intelligence guy in plain clothes right in front of me."

Rumours whipped round Tehran that the police had shot dead demonstrators and a heavy security presence was visible on all streets. In the absence of mobile communications, people stayed at home, calling each other on overloaded phone lines and exchanging news. Tehran's phone network was cut off from the rest of the family. Rioting was also reported in the heavily Kurdish western areas, and the cities of Zahedan and Shiraz (see map).

"If this continues for another three days, the hand of the regime will be forced," said one of the demonstrators as he carried a large plastic road blocker into the middle of the street and tried to set it on fire. Others poured gasoline over a guard shack and threw in a match.

The demonstrators were organised enough to disappear into waiting cars at the first sight of vigilantes riding motorcycles. Storing stones in their cars, they moved around.

By 3.30 a.m., the length of Vali Asr Avenue, Tehran's main North-South boulevard was cleared of protesters. Cars trundled over broken glass and veered away from smouldering bonfires. Dust and soot rose from the scorched tarmac and Tehran's historical highway was reclaimed by celebrating Ahmadinejad demonstrators waving Iranian flags.

"We're happy because the right man won," one Ahmadinejad protester leaned out of his car to say.

Waving flags and singing, the Ahmadinejad supporters stuck close to the ranks of police taking a breather after a day of violence on the streets. Sirens blinked on every street corner and swarms of Bassiji motorcyclists drove along the pavements to places where they were reports of continuing resistance. The suffocating mix of car exhaust and acrid remnants of extinguished tires marked the devastated landscape.

(Iason Athanasiadis is reporting from Iran on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.)