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Some 150 arrested as thousands protest annulment of poll for third day

TEHRAN, Iran, April 21, 2000 (AP) -- Demonstrators clashed with police Friday and at least 150 people were arrested in the third day of protests after hard-liners annulled a reformist's election victory, a local journalist said.

''The protesters hurled stones at anti-riot police and set one of the police cars on fire,'' said the journalist from the town of Sarvestan in southern Fars Province.

It was not immediately clear whether anyone was in the police car when it was set on fire and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said hundreds of anti-riot police were patrolling the streets of Sarvestan. Police also banned gatherings of more than three people in the town.

''The situation is very tense and the streets are littered with broken glass, burned tires and stones,'' the journalist said. The protests began Wednesday.

The town is one of several districts where hard-liners have overturned results from the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections, which saw an overwhelming victory by supporters of President Mohammad Khatami's liberalization program over conservatives in the clerical regime.

In Sarvastan, the Guardians Council disqualified the victor, pro-reform candidate Zeinolabedin Tahmasbi, and awarded his seat the runner-up, hard-liner Saadollah Rousta-Tasouji.

The Guardians Council, which is dominated by hard-liners and supervises the elections, gave no reason for the disqualification.

Police have arrested five members of Tahmasbi's election campaign, the journalist said today.

Many of the protesters wore white shrouds, a practice adopted after the 1979 Islamic revolution that signifies readiness to die for a cause.

''We have been insulted. Our votes are being wasted. We are not seeking violence, but we are also not going to compromise and accept any other person than the one whom we voted for,'' one of the protesters told the journalist on condition of anonymity.

On Thursday, Sarvestan shopkeepers closed their stores and some 10,000 people gathered in front of the governor's office to demand that the original results be recognized. Anti-riot police were called in from the provincial capital of Shiraz shortly afterward to control the situation.

Last week, residents from the towns of Khalkhal in northwest Iran and Damavand in the suburbs of Tehran staged protests after the Guardians Council canceled the election victories of reformists there.