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Iran bans foreign media from revolution day

Several arrests made as opposition urges protests

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Iran has for the first time banned foreign media from covering Thursday's street marches marking the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, amid opposition plans for anti-government protests.

An official coordinating the media told AFP that reporters and photographers were allowed to cover only the speech of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the historic Azadi (Freedom) Square in southwestern Tehran, and not the traditional street marches across the city.

Every year hundreds of thousands of Iranians participate in marches in Tehran and other cities to mark the toppling of the US-backed shah in 1979.

But since a dispute over Ahmadinejad's re-election erupted last June, opposition supporters have hijacked regime-sponsored events to stage anti-government protests.

Iranian authorities are bracing for such protests on Thursday and have warned of a severe crackdown against protesters.

Several arrested

Iran has arrested several people who were preparing to disrupt rallies on Feb. 11 marking the 1979 Islamic revolution, police said on Wednesday, in a clear warning to opposition supporters planning new protests.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have urged a large turnout by their supporters on Thursday.

"We are closely watching the activities of the sedition movement and several people who were preparing to disrupt the Feb. 11 rallies were arrested," Fars News Agency quoted police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam as saying, giving no details.

Playing down possible unrest, the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying: "There will be no worries in this regard. We are fully prepared for holding a safe and glorious rally."

He said police, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij Islamic militia were "ready for any possible incident ... and they will let no one create insecurity".

The hard-line leadership is also facing increased international pressure after the Islamic state announced this week an expansion of nuclear work which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs, a charge Tehran denies.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday the international community was moving "fairly quickly" toward imposing broader sanctions on Iran, a major oil producer.

We are closely watching the activities of the sedition movement and several people who were preparing to disrupt the Feb. 11 rallies were arrested

Police Chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam

"Many people are worried"

Some Iranians said they were apprehensive before the annual events marking the 31st anniversary of the revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah. "Many people are worried," one young academic said in Tehran, declining to be named.

Eight people were killed in clashes between the security forces and opposition backers in December, in the most serious bloodshed since the aftermath of the vote, when dozens died.

The opposition is showing no sign of backing down, despite many arrests in a continuing crackdown by the authorities.

The opposition says the June poll was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad's re-election. Government officials have denied the charge and portrayed the protests that erupted after the vote as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic Republic.

After the June election, thousands of people protesting against the conduct of the vote were arrested. Most of them have since been freed, although more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years, including several senior ex-officials.

In January, Iran hanged two people sentenced to death in post-vote trials and at least nine others are appealing such sentences. The West and rights groups condemned the executions, accusing Iran of seeking to intimidate the opposition.