TEHRAN- The authorities have banned memorial gatherings for a leading dissident cleric in most parts of Iran, reformist websites said on Thursday, days ahead of an emotive Shi'ite ritual that may draw more opposition protests.
Six months after a disputed election plunged the Islamic Republic into political turmoil, tension has again mounted in the major oil producer after Saturday night's death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri at the age of 87.
Vast crowds attended the pro-opposition cleric's funeral procession in the holy Shi'ite city of Qom on Monday, some chanting anti-government slogans.
On Wednesday, opposition websites said security forces clashed with his backers who were gathering for a memorial service for him in Isfahan, one of Iran's biggest cities. There were also reports of scuffles in his nearby hometown, Najafabad.
Montazeri's death occurred in the tense run-up to Ashura on December 27, a politically important Shi'ite religious commemoration that offers the opposition another opportunity to show its strength. That day coincides with the seventh day of mourning for Montazeri, when more memorial services are usually held.
According to an announcement by the Supreme National Security Council, with the exception of Qom and Najafabad, the holding of any meeting (memorial service) for Montazeri will be forbidden throughout the country, the Kaleme website said.
Another pro-reform website, Parlemannews, also carried the report.
The semi-official Fars news agency reported a reformist former government spokesman detained after the disputed June presidential poll, which triggered huge opposition protests, had been sentenced to six years in jail.
It said Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, who backed opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in the vote, was sentenced by a court on charges including acting against national security, propaganda against the Islamic system and possessing classified documents.
Based on the court's decision Ramezanzadeh was given a six-year obligatory jail sentence, Fars quoted a Revolutionary court statement as saying. It did not say when the verdict was issued. Revolutionary courts usually handle security cases.
Thousands of people were arrested after the poll, which the opposition says was rigged in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's favour. Most of them have since been freed, but more than 80 have received jail sentences of up to 15 years in connection with protests and violence after the vote, the judiciary says.
Ahmadinejad's re-election kindled the biggest unrest in the Islamic state's 30-year history and split the political and clerical establishment.
The authorities deny poll rigging charges and have portrayed the protests that erupted after the poll as a foreign-backed bid to topple the Islamic establishment, accusing leading reformers of fomenting post-election violence.
Despite scores of arrests and security crackdowns, opposition protests have repeatedly flared up since the vote.
Montazeri, an architect of the 1979 Islamic revolution and a spiritual patron of the pro-Mousavi movement, was a fierce critic of the hardline clerical establishment who denounced Ahmadinejad's re-election as fraudulent.
The cleric was once named to succeed late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader, but he fell from grace after criticising the mass execution of prisoners in the late 1980s.
On Wednesday, opposition websites said security forces armed with batons and tear gas clashed with Montazeri supporters in Isfahan and Najafabad.
But a senior local official denied reports of clashes in Isfahan, blaming foreign media of staging a psychological war against the clerical establishment by publishing such reports.
Foreign media have been banned from reporting directly on protests and were told not to travel to Qom after Montazeri's death.
Police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moqadam said his force would firmly confront protesters if they caused destruction and disorder, the official IRNA news agency reported.
As long as the behaviour of the protesters is not accompanied with lawlessness, destruction and rebellion we will be satisfied with issuing warnings, he told reporters.
Iranian media said Tehran would from next month ban banknotes which have been scribbled upon, a move one Iranian website said was in response to the appearance of political slogans on some of them.
Expressions in support of Mousavi, such as Oh Hossein, Mirhossein, have occasionally been cropping up on banknotes since the election.
Banknotes on which there are writings or are stamped or have any additional signs will be invalid, the Jam-e Jam daily quoted central bank official Ebrahim Darvishi as saying.
The Ayande website, seen as close to conservative politician Mohsen Rezaie, said in a headline about the move: The central bank's reaction to the writing of slogans on banknotes.
On one 20,000-rial (around $2) banknote seen this week, an opposition supporter had written: Montazeri is not dead.
(Editing by Richard Williams)