Thousands in Iran rally for government

TEHRAN, Iran — Tens of thousands of Iranians backing the country's rulers rallied in central Tehran on Wednesday, calling for the death of anti-government protesters and opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Clad in black and holding portraits of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the government supporters chanted slogans for the Islamic Republic and against its opponents. "Death to Mousavi!" they chanted. "Death to opponents of velayet faqih," a reference to Iran's theocratic political system.

The gathering came as Mousavi attended a solemn burial ceremony for his nephew, who was shot to death during weekend riots.

The rally was in response to a weekend of large-scale anti-government unrest coinciding with the religious holiday of Ashoura. Iranian officials condemned the earlier protest as part of a foreign-backed plot to weaken the Islamic Republic.

"I advise Mr. Obama and some European leaders to learn a lesson from the fate of their predecessors and do not think that by creating scenes and kicking up ballyhoos they can disturb the united ranks of Iranian nation," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said to reporters at a Cabinet meeting, according to the pro-government Fars News Agency.

Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi claimed that Marxists and exiled opposition groups were behind the weekend's unrest and that some had already been captured.

Still, rowdy protests broke out Wednesday on campuses in the Tehran suburb of Shahriar and in the eastern city of Mashhad, where armed militiamen allegedly attacked students, injuring at least 10, according to reformist Web sites and video footage posted to the Internet.

Iran's leaders have long been masters of gathering huge crowds for pro-government demonstrations. Amid an ongoing crackdown on opposition supporters and dissidents, authorities encouraged employees of government offices and state-owned businesses to attend the 3 p.m. rally.

Public schools were told to dispatch students to the event. The manager of a state-owned Tehran cement plant flatly ordered staff to attend, according to one employee. Authorities established free shuttle buses and waived subway entrance fees to draw crowds.