Austin Mackell reports on the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Iranian capital
Since my last post, violence has engulfed Tehran, with police (sometimes accompanied supporters of the victorious president Ahmadinejad) clashing with anti-Ahmadinejad rioters across the city. The violence has been centred around Valias Street, the main north-south route through Tehran, where crowds could be seen erecting barricades and burning what they told me were police motorcycles. I also saw a mob of anti-government rioters, armed with planks of wood and cinderblocks, descend on a man in civilian clothes they claimed was a member of the Basij, a youth militia group close to the religious authorities and, by association, President Ahmedinejad.
The violence, however, has not been contained in that one location, with protesters smashing banks and making bonfires of skip bins, garbage, wood and whatever else they can lay their hands on the roads across the city.
As I write this, the fighting continues, with groups of police, increasingly accompanied by pro-Ahmadinejad civilians armed with makeshift batons, pursuing the rioters, who in most cases disperse when set upon, only to regroup elsewhere.
In this chaos, the rules governing press coverage, as most other rules, have completely disappeared, with fully accredited journalists in the company of government-approved translators being arrested, beaten and having their cameras and tapes stolen. To make things harder, for both the protesters and the press, SMS services have been unavailable since Thursday night, and now calls from mobiles are also impossible.
According to many, however, this is just the beginning. As the government has banned the extension of any press visas, most of the foreign press (including myself) will be forced out of the country in the next few days. Once this has happened, there will be one less reason for the police to show what little restraint they are currently demonstrating in dealing with the protests.