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Festival turns deadly in Iran

At least four killed in deadliest riots since election, as police and militia clash with protesters.

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Iran saw its deadliest day of protests in six months and the declaration of martial law in at least one city Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of people clashed with security forces on the streets of major cities at the climax of a Shiite religious festival.

Four people were killed in incidents, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and at least 300 arrested, according to police deputy commander Ahmad Reza Radan, being interviewed on IRIB. One of those arrested was the son of Mustafa Moein, a prominent reformist who ran for president in 2005.

Witnesses and opposition news sources reported that government forces had shot live gunfire into crowds of protesters during the holiest feast in Shiite Islam. Another four people were killed in Tabriz, according to a reformist news site.

Witnesses described demonstrators constructing street barricades and fighting against security forces for the control of squares. Unverified reports claimed that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had been transported to a military base in a helicopter from his residence in central Tehran.

“There’s fighting going on across the north of the city, and the number of killed is far more than the four whose death has been announced,” said one witness who described the kind of weapons used as "Colts and a larger handgun."

"They have been spraying people with bullets."

The reformist Rahesabz news agency reported that officers refused to shoot into crowds as per their commanders’ instructions and aimed at the sky instead. One photograph showed a riot policeman in his black body armor donning a green cap and joining the ranks of protesters. Elsewhere, protesters stripped demoralized officers of their weapons and set their motorbikes afire.

"This is an inferno that can’t be extinguished with just a splash of water," said Delbar Tavakoli, an exiled journalist living in Turkey who has been watching developments from over the border.

 Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, an analyst and Ph.D. candidate in contemporary Iranian history at London University, said: “It’s pure political suicide to kill people on Ashura, of all days.

"They become instant martyrs."