Iranians Stage Largest Protest in Weeks

Protesters clashed with security forces in Tehran tonight during what some eyewitnesses describe as the largest anti-governmentdemonstrations in weeks.

The demonstrations followed a dramatic sermon by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani at Friday prayers at Tehran University. Rafsanjani used strong language in his sermon, demanding that political prisoners be released.

He also said debate over the recent presidential election should be reopened and that the government show sympathy for the opposition and defuse what he called a crisis.

"We must bring back the trust of the people," he said. "We must join those who have incurred great losses and lessen their pain."

Human rights groups estimate that thousands of opposition supporters and leaders have been arrested since the anti-government demonstrations began after the disputed June 12 elections. Today, Amnesty International said Shadi Sadr, a prominent lawyer and activist, was beaten and arrested as she tried to attend the Friday prayers.

After prayers, protesters marched toward Evin prison, where many dissidents are imprisoned.

Inside Tehran University today, opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi was seen sitting in the front row, his first public appearance in weeks. Eyewitnesses told ABC News thousands of Mousavi supporters rallied outside. Many were chanting "Allah Akhbar" and "God Is Great." The traditional Muslim call to prayer has become a rallying cry for the opposition, harkening back to the country's 1979 Islamic revolution.

As protesters again filled the streets, witnesses told ABC News that security forces responded with violence.

"The security forces are using the same old brutality," one witness said. "I was beaten. My mother was beaten."

Regular police joined the paramilitary Basiji in beating protesters, the person said.

In the days before Rafsanjani's speech, Tehran was filled with speculation as to what he would say. Some right-wing newspapers indicated -- and some opposition supporters worried -- that he would announce a compromise with the government.

Iran Protesters Say Election Dispute Isn't Over

His strong words -- and the strong showing by opposition supporters -- is the clearest sign recently that the conflict is far from over. Other hard-liners, such as former presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, have also refused to pronounce the dispute over. And to see thousands of supporters in the streets -- even bigger than the crowds on July 9 anniversary of the 1999 student uprising -- is sure to encourage the opposition.

"The protests haven't died," one protester told ABC News. "They are only beginning."