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Montazeri service becomes protest rally

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Tens of thousands of supporters of dissident cleric Ayatollah Ali Montazeri attend his funeral in the city of Qom, 78 miles south of Tehran, Iran on December 21,2009. Montazeri died at the age of 87 in his home. Iranian mourners turned the funeral into an opposition rally against the Iranian government. UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/d71dde6ef82b16006f2b263e3201a1d6/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Tens of thousands of supporters of dissident cleric Ayatollah Ali Montazeri attend his funeral in the city of Qom, 78 miles south of Tehran, Iran on December 21,2009. Montazeri died at the age of 87 in his home. Iranian mourners turned the funeral into an opposition rally against the Iranian government. UPI | License Photo

ISFAHAN, Iran, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Iranian police and anti-government protesters clashed at a memorial service for cleric-turned-critic Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, witnesses said.

Opposition Iranian Web sites reported more than 50 people were arrested in Isfahan Wednesday as police and security forces surrounded the Seyed mosque, sparking confrontation as they prevented mourners from entering the mosque, The Times of London reported.

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"Security forces are beating people including women and children with batons, chains and stones," the reformist Web site Rahesabz.net said.

Postings on Rahesabz.net said mourners were shouting slogans supporting Iran's opposition Green Movement when police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Parlemannews.ir, the Web site of Iran's reformist faction in parliament, said, "over 50 people, including four reporters, were arrested in clashes."

Montazeri, who died Saturday night, was a key figure in the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power, but fell out of favor after criticizing Khomeini during the late 1980s.

Montazeri became an outspoken critic of the regime and the country's spiritual leader, picking up his criticisms after the disputed June re-election of President Mahmound Ahmadinejad and the deadly anti-government protests that followed.

Hundreds of thousands of mourners turned out for Montazeri's funeral in Qom, leading to a huge anti-government protest that ended in clashes between police and mourners, the British newspaper said.

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