Riot police clash with protesters in Tehran

Police have used tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesters rallying in Tehran to demand a new presidential election, witnesses say.

Dozens reported hurt after police charge the crowd

Police used tear gas, water cannons and batons Saturday to disperse thousands of protesters rallying in the central part of Iran's capital to demand a new presidential election, witnesses said.

Clashes came amid reports that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi had said he was "ready for martyrdom" and that the state may face "dangerous consequences" by not allowing legal rallies.

In this image taken from amateur video posted online Saturday, protesters are seen near a fire set on a street in Tehran. ((Associated Press))

Witnesses have said about 100 people were hurt after riot police charged the crowd of nearly 3,000 — some chanting "Death to dictatorship" — in Tehran's Revolution Square and began beating demonstrators.

Other witnesses said some protesters also shouted "Death to Khamenei!" in reference to Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A state-run television channel reported that a suicide bombing at the shrine of the Islamic Revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini killed at least two people and wounded eight. There are also unconfirmed reports that opposition supporters set fire to a building used by backers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A report on Iran's Press TV said at least 400 police had been injured, and that 700 buildings and 300 banks had been damaged.

At least seven people have died, according to the official Iranian count, but the total could be higher. With government restrictions on journalists, it was difficult to confirm the reports.

Amateur video taken in the area showed a fiery barricade that protesters put up to block police.

Canadian freelance journalist George McLeod, one of the few foreign reporters remaining in the country, told CBC News he saw fires burning in the streets and heard small explosions.

"Tehran is quickly becoming very violent. There are protests all over the city," he said. "I saw three people being carried into ambulances. One had a head wound, the other seemed semi-unconscious. I don't know whether they were protesters, security forces or bystanders."

Witnesses claimed some marchers were beaten with batons by security forces or metal pipes wielded by the militiamen known as Basijis, who are directed by the Revolutionary Guard.

Reuters reported that a "Mousavi ally" told the news agency by phone that "in a public address in southwestern Tehran, Mousavi said he was ready for martyrdom and that he would continue his path."

Mousavi also said on his website, according to Reuters, that "we are not against the Islamic system and its laws but against lies and deviations and just want to reform it. Those who do not allow such gatherings will be responsible for its dangerous consequences."

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Iranian authorities to halt "all violent and unjust actions against its own people."

He said the United States "stands by all who seek to exercise" the universal rights to assembly and free speech.

Canadian Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff condemned the Iranian government's use of violence to stifle what he said was peaceful dissent by protesters.

"We mourn each life lost as a result of the Government of Iran's unjust actions, and share the anguish and outrage of Canadians of Iranian origin at the suppression of peaceful protest and the apparent denial of fully free and fair elections," Ignatieff said in a statement issued Saturday.

He also encouraged the Canadian government to do all it can to help the injured at its embassy in Tehran.

Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam, a police commander, told The Associated Press that more than a week of unrest and marches had become "exhausting, bothersome and intolerable." He threatened a more "serious confrontation" if protesters return.

Opponents had called for more protests in Tehran a day after Iran's supreme leader said the re-election of Ahmadinejad on June 12 must be accepted.

Official results showing Ahmadinejad won by a two-to-one margin over former prime minister Mousavi sparked a week of massive street protests by opposition supporters who allege the presidential vote was rigged.

Police filled Tehran's streets before rally

Earlier, McLeod reported that police worked to pre-empt the demonstration by showing up before the start of the rally, planned for 4 p.m. local time.

"There were hundreds and hundreds of riot police wearing green military-style outfits and carrying batons and shields," he said.

"Radiating out from the square there were hundreds and hundreds of plainclothes militia who were carrying batons and tear-gas cannons, and a few shotguns as well."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday ordered opposition leaders to end the protests or be held responsible for any bloodshed.

"They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos," he said.

Elsewhere in the Iranian capital on Saturday, there were reports that a suicide bomber blew himself up at the mausoleum of the father of Iran's revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

State media in Iran said two people were wounded in the incident in the northern wing of the shrine.

With files from The Associated Press