Crowds gather to mourn cleric


Iran's top dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a fierce critic of the hardline leadership who denounced June's disputed election as fraudulent, has died at the age of 87.

The moderate Parlemannews website said supporters of Montazeri, an architect of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the US-backed shah, were flocking to the Shia Muslim holy city of Qom to attend his funeral tomorrow.

The reformist Tagheer website said pro-opposition Iranians were gathering in Tehran squares to mourn and said riot police were out in parts of Qom, where Montazeri lived and died.

His death from a heart attack, reported by official media today, coincides with tension rising once again in the Islamic Republic, six months after the presidential poll plunged the major oil producer into political crisis.

"My grandfather died in his sleep last night. People and friends are coming to express their condolences but there are no special security measures around our house," Naser Montazeri said by phone from Qom.

The burial, to start at 9am (5.30am Irish time) at Qom's main shrine, could become a rallying point for the reformist opposition and this may worry the authorities, said London-based Iran analyst Baqer Moin.

"The amount of support shown to him will hearten the opposition who are mourning his loss," Mr Moin said.

Hundreds of Montazeri supporters took to the streets in his home town of Najafabad, both mourning his loss and chanting slogans, video posted on the Internet showed.