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IRAN: Heavy security presence as tensions run high [Update]

February 20, 2011 |  8:59 am

Reports of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in some Iranian cities surfaced on opposition news sites Sunday, which was supposed to be a day of nationwide demonstrations, but restrictions on independent media have made such reports difficult to confirm.

[Updated 12:34 a.m. Monday: Fars News Agency reported that Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was "briefly arrested"  Sunday but has been released. The report said she was leading "anti-revolutionaries and rioters" in Tehran.]

The video featured above claims to show security forces chasing protesters in Shiraz on Sunday, but could not be authenticated.

The pro-opposition website Freedom Messenger and other sources reported clashes in the central Vali Asr Square in Tehran, but these reports could not be confirmed. Other sources reported the streets were mostly quiet but intensely policed.

Video from earlier on Sunday posted online appeared to show a heavy security presence in the area, with dozens of paramilitary Basij forces patrolling on motorbikes.

Unconfirmed reports on Twitter and Facebook claimed demonstrations has also broken out in the cities of Esfahan, Tabriz, Mashad and Sanandaj as the government seeks to clamp down on media. CNN's Reza Sayah tweeted on Sunday afternoon that Iranian authorities had revoked the press credentials of 11 international journalists.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi has called for a rally to commemorate two protesters killed in clashes with government forces last week, but authorities have warned they will take a heavy approach to any "illegal" demonstrations. On Sunday morning, semi-official news agencies seemed to set the stage for a forceful crackdown, accusing the opposition of seeking to foment violence.

Sunday's planned protests also coincided with reports that an Iranian diplomat in Italy named Ahmad Maleki defected on Sunday to join the opposition movement, according to Gooya News.

--Meris Lutz in Beirut

Top video: footage posted online claims to show security forces chasing protesters in Shiraz. Credit: YouTube. Bottom video: Footage posted online claims to show heavy security presence in Tehran ahead of planned protests. Credit: YouTube

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