Central Tehran has witnessed a huge protest demonstration on Sunday, timed with Ashura, the day marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, one of the most revered figures known to Shia Islam.

Witnesses said protesters marched a 10-km stretch from Imam Hossein Square in the east to Azadi Square located in the western part of the city. Many wore green wristbands and scarves, the colour associated with supporters of Mir-Hosain Mousavi, chief opposition candidate who lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during the disputed June 12 presidential elections.

However, it was not President Ahmadinejad who was the target of the protesters ire during the demonstration. Instead slogans were shouted against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who had unambiguously sided with the declared election results.

Police used tear gas, batons and resorted to firing to disperse the crowds, which were the largest assembled since the June 20 demonstrations held in the wake of the election results. Opposition websites said that gunshots claimed the lives of three people.

However, Tehran authorities denied that there were any fatalities. The news agency ISNA quoted city police chief Azizollah Rajabzadeh as saying “no one has been killed up to now”.

The demonstrators used the symbology of the Ashura, echoing the ultimate sacrifice for justice made by Imam Hossein, against the forces of Yazid, the ruler of the day. In Tehran on Sunday, the demonstrators shouted: “This month is the month of blood, Yazid will be overthrown.” On Saturday, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who has sided with the opposition said: “The uprising of Imam Hossein was because he wanted to give his life for freedom and he fought with those who wanted to rule over their society under the name of religion while depriving people of their freedom.”

The protesters also paid tribute to the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, the dissident cleric who died a week ago, by carrying his pictures during the march.

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