Gunfire from a compound used by pro-government militia was believed to have killed at least one demonstrator Monday after hundreds of thousands of opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad massed in central Tehran to cheer their pro-reform leader in his first public appearance since elections that he alleges were marred by fraud.
A group of demonstrators with fuel canisters attempted to set fire to the compound of a volunteer militia linked to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard as the crowd dispersed from Azadi Square after dark. As some attempted to storm the building, people inside could be seen firing directly at the demonstrators at the northern edge of the square, away from the heart of the demonstration.
An Associated Press photographer saw one person who appeared to have been fatally shot and several others who appeared to be seriously wounded.
The chanting demonstrators had defied an Interior Ministry ban and streamed into central Tehran — an outpouring for reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi that swelled as more poured from buildings and side streets.
The massive show of protest followed a decision by Iran’s most powerful figure for an investigation into the vote-rigging allegations.
The chanting crowd — many wearing the trademark green color of Mr. Mousavi’s campaign — was more than five miles long, and based on previous demonstrations in the square and surrounding streets, its size was estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
Security forces watched quietly, with shields and batons at their sides.
Mr. Mousavi, in a gray striped shirt and talking through a portable loudspeaker, had paused on the edge of the square — where Mr. Ahmadinejad made his first postelection speech — to address the throng. They roared back: “Long live Mousavi.”
“This is not election. This is selection,” read one English-language placard at the demonstration. Other marchers held signs proclaiming “We want our vote!” and raised their fingers in a V-for-victory salute.
“We want our president, not the one who was forced on us,” said 28-year-old Sara, who gave only her first name because she feared reprisal from authorities. The demonstration lasted several hours before the crowd began to disperse and violence erupted.
Hours earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei directed one of Iran’s most influential bodies, the Guardian Council, to examine the claims.
The results of the elections touched off three days of clashes — the worst unrest in Tehran in a decade. Protesters set fires and battled riot police, including a clash overnight at Tehran University after about 3,000 students gathered to oppose the election results.
Security forces have struck back with targeted arrests of pro-reform activists and blocks on text messaging and pro-Mousavi websites used to rally his supporters.
One of Mr. Mousavi’s websites said a student protester was killed early Monday in clashes with plainclothes hard-liners in Shiraz, southern Iran. But there was no independent confirmation of the report. There also have been unconfirmed reports of unrest in other cities.
Most media are not allowed to travel beyond Tehran and thus cannot independently confirm protests in other cities.
The unrest also risked bringing splits among Iran’s clerical elite, including some influential Shiite scholars raising concern about possible election irregularities and at least one member of the ruling theocracy, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, openly critical of Mr. Ahmadinejad in the campaign.
According to a pro-Mousavi website, he sent a letter to senior clerics in Qom, Iran’s main center of Islamic learning, to spell out his claims.
The accusations also have brought growing international concern. On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden raised questions about whether the vote reflected the wishes of the Iranian people.
Britain and Germany joined the calls of alarm over the rising confrontations in Iran. In Paris, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador to discuss the allegations of vote tampering and the violence.
Overnight, police and hard-line militia stormed the campus at the city’s biggest university, ransacking dormitories and arresting dozens of students angry over what they say was mass election fraud.
The overnight gathering at Tehran University started with students chanting “Death to the dictator.” But it quickly erupted into clashes as students threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who fought back with tear gas and plastic bullets, a 25-year-old student who witnessed the fighting told the AP. He would only give one name, Akbar, out of fears for his safety.
The students set vehicles on fire and hurled stones and bricks at the police, he said. Hard-line militia volunteers loyal to the Revolutionary Guard stormed the dormitories, ransacking student rooms and smashing computers and furniture with axes and wooden sticks, Akbar said.
Before leaving around 4 a.m., the police took away memory cards and computer software material, Akbar said, adding that dozens of students were arrested.
He said many students suffered bruises, cuts, and broken bones in the scuffling and that there was still smoldering garbage on the campus by midmorning but that the situation had calmed down.
“Many students are now leaving to go home to their families, they are scared,” he said. “But others are staying. The police and militia say they will be back and arrest any students they see.”
“I want to stay because they beat us and we won’t retreat,” he added.
The university was the site of serious clashes against student-led protests in 1999 and is one of the nerve centers of the pro-reform movement.
After dark Sunday, Ahmadinejad opponents shouted “Death to the dictator!” and “Allahu akbar!” — “God is great!” — from Tehran’s rooftops. The protest bore deep historic resonance — it was how the leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini asked Iran to unite against the Western-backed shah 30 years earlier.
In Moscow, the Iranian Embassy said Mr. Ahmadinejad has put off a visit to Russia, and it is unclear whether he will come at all. Mr. Ahmadinejad had been expected to travel to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg and meet on Monday with President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of a regional summit.