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Fri 31 Jul 2009 04:08 PM

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Iran to try 30 'rioters' on Saturday

Accused are are alleged to have 'participated in riots and... acting against national security'.

Some 30 people accused of rioting in the turbulent aftermath of Iran's presidential election face trial on Saturday, a report said, as a senior cleric called Friday for all protestors to be freed.

The trial in a revolutionary court come amid simmering tension in Iran following clashes between thousands of mourners and riot police during a memorial service at a cemetery and at a demonstration in central Tehran.

According to the ISNA news agency, "about 30" people will be put on trial on Saturday.

They are alleged to have "participated in riots and are accused of acting against national security, disturbing public order and vandalising public and government property," ISNA said.

It added without elaborating, that several of the accused are alleged to have links with mohareb (enemies of God) groups.

Iranian officials had earlier said that 20 people would be put on trial from Saturday.

Some 2,000 protesters, political activists, reformists and journalists were initially detained as authorities cracked down on opposition groups protesting the re-election last month of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom they say won only due to massive rigging of votes.

Most of the detainees have been released but about 250 remain behind bars and their continued detention has become a rallying point for the anti-Ahmadinejad movement.

A top Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, said on Friday the key to restoring calm in the country was to free all those rounded up in the aftermath of the mass demonstrations.

"In order to bring calm to society, the fate of prisoners must be decided as soon as possible," Shirazi was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.

"Those who are not at fault or whose fault can be ignored under Islamic laws, they must be freed. I hope by the time of the birth anniversary of the 12th Imam (Mahdi), we will have no prisoners in the prisons."

The birth anniversary of Imam Mahdi, a revered Shiite saint, falls on August 7 and Ahmadinejad himself has urged the judiciary to release all the protesters by then.

Earlier this week, Iran's chief prosecutor Ghorbanli Dorri Najafabadi said a "considerable" number of protesters would be released on Friday.

The Islamic republic is engulfed in its worst crisis in its 30-year existence as anti-Ahmadinejad groups led by former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi refuse to acknowledge his victory in the June 12 poll and regularly launch protests.

On Thursday, thousands of people mourning the protestors killed in the post-vote unrest clashed with riot police at the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery and in central Tehran, witnesses said.

Riot police also used tear gas and batons to break up the demonstration in central Tehran, soon after they hit mourners with batons and belts at the defiant graveside commemoration at the cemetery south of Tehran, they said.

Iranians were marking the 40th day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman who came to symbolise the public uprising over Ahmadinejad's victory.

A graphic Internet video of Neda bleeding to death was seen around the world and triggered an outcry over the sometimes brutal crackdown on demonstrators.

Mousavi attended the mourning service but was forced to leave by the police.

The US State Department described the use of force as "disturbing" and expressed solidarity with the right of Iranians to demonstrate.

"I think it's particularly disturbing to see security forces use force to break up a graveside demonstration," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.

Protestors on Vali Asr Street, a busy thoroughfare in central Tehran, were also shouting "Death to the dictator!", "Free the political prisoners!" and chanted slogans in support of Mousavi as police beat them, a witness said.

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