World protests Iran right abuse

AMSTERDAM: Thousands of people around the world held protests to denounce rights abuses in Iran following contested presidential elections and express support for opponents of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Some of the biggest rallies on Saturday -- the last day of a three-day "Iran Global Day of Action" staged in 85 cities worldwide -- took place in Amsterdam, London and Stockholm, with more than 4,000 alone taking to the streets of the Swedish capital.

Among the 1,000 people in Amsterdam was Iran's Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi who led the crowd in chanting: "We want to live in peace. Long live peace".

In London, where more than a thousand gathered outside the Iranian embassy, organisers also spoke of supporting Iranians protesting against Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election.

"This is symbolic, it's a global day of solidarity," said Potkin Azarmehr, one of the organisers. "We need to make sure the government pays a price for the way they're treating the people in Iran."

Following charges of fraud in the June 12 presidential election, Tehran became the scene of mass street protests that shook the pillars of the Islamic republic.

Iranian official reports say at least 20 people died and more than 1,000 were arrested in demonstrations. Dozens of reformist leaders, journalists and human rights activists have also been jailed in the wake of the election that the opposition says was rigged.

Chanting "Freedom ...Now," hundreds of demonstrators marched in New York demanding the release of all political prisoners and democracy in Iran.

A crowd estimated at 600 by police and at 2,000 by the organisers waved green flags symbolising Iran's Green movement supporting opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

They filed past Iran's UN mission and read out a message from Iranian human rights activist and Nobel laureate Ebadi urging all nations to support "the freedom fighters who stand for the democratic institutions.

"Done this way, the sapling of democracy will bear the flower of freedom," the message said.

In a park in Tokyo's busy Shibuya district, demonstrators carried a placard declaring: "Ahmadinejad is not Iran's president."

In Paris, a rally of some 600 people, mostly Iranians, denounced the "electoral coup d'etat" in Iran. Many wore green in support of Mousavi who was Ahmadinejad's closest rival.

Others carried pictures of a young Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot dead during a demonstration and has become a symbol of the opposition's struggle.

"We want the United Nations to intervene, an inquiry into the systematic human rights violations in Iran," said the group United for Iran.

In Melbourne, one of the five Australian cities where protests took place, about 50 members of the Iranian community waved their homeland's flag and banners reading "Stop Torture" and "Iran election was a fraud".

Fariba Marzban, who was jailed in Tehran for eight years as a political prisoner following the 1979 revolution, said in London times were changing in Iran.

"The people are now speaking -- for 30 years, people were quiet, now they are talking," she said. "Our ambition is free speech, liberty."

Demonstrations also took place in Berlin, Copenhagen, Vienna and Geneva, where protesters gathered outside the United Nations' European headquarters.

In Vienna, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran urged companies such as Siemens and Nokia which do business in Iran to put pressure on Tehran.

Iranian opposition leaders Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Khatami on Saturday urged the country's clerics to intervene to help stop the spread of "oppression" by the authorities.

In a statement on Mousavi's website Ghalamnews, the three accused the regime of "savagery" and said its "interrogation methods are a reminder of the dark era of the Shah" Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was toppled in the 1979 revolution.