A couple of weeks ago in this space I commented on the way in which opponents of President Ahmadinejad's regime in Iran were taking advantage of official commemorative National Days to organise protest marches and demonstrations.

Yesterday the funeral of the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died on Sunday at the age of 87, provided another opportunity for mass protests, this time in the city of Qom. Although a funeral of a leading cleric might not seem an appropriate occasion for the chanting of slogans against the government there was a certain logic in it since the Grand Ayatollah had always been known for his reformist instincts; he was a critic of the Ayaltollah Khomeini after the overthrow of the Shah and later spent six year under house arrest for criticism of the present Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Next Sunday the important religious Ashura ceremonies take place and there is already speculation about more protests in Tehran.

The principal opposition leader in Iran, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was present at yesterday's events and continues to show his defiance of Ahmadinejad. It is difficult to know just how much open and large-scale opposition Ahmadinejad will tolerate before taking even more ruthless repressive measures than he has done so far. It is even more difficult to judge what action, if any, the Western powers should take to encourage and assist the protestors.


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