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Defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi declared Saturday he was "ready for martyrdom," an aide said, in the protests that have shaken Iran and brought warnings of bloodshed from the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader.

The opposition leader's comments came as police beat protesters and fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands who rallied Saturday in open defiance of Iran's clerical government, wounding at least 50, witnesses said.

"In a public address in southwestern Tehran, Mousavi said he was ready for martyrdom and that he would continue his path," an ally of the opposition leader, who asked not to be named, told Reuters by telephone from the Jeyhun street in Tehran.

Mousavi also told his supporters in a statement Saturday that he would always be at their side, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.He added in the statement, adressed to his supporters, that he was not confronting the Islamic state.

The opposition leader further warned that by not allowing legal rallies, the Islamic state may face "dangerous consequences".

Witnesses told The Associated Press that between 50 and 60 protesters were hospitalized after the beatings by police and pro-government militia, in a sharp escalation of Iran's most serious internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Some bloggers and Twitter users claimed that there had been numerous fatalities in Saturday's unrest, reports that could not be immediately verified.

Eyewitnesses described fierce clashes after some 3,000 protesters, many wearing black, chanted "Death to the dictator!" and "Death to dictatorship!" near Revolution Square in downtown Tehran. Police fired tear gas, water cannons and guns but it was not clear if they were firing live ammunition.

Some protesters appeared to be fighting back, setting fire to militia members' motorcycles, witnesses said. Helicopters hovered, ambulances raced through the streets and black smoke rose over the city.

Police and militia were blocking protesters from gathering on the main thoroughfare running east from Revolution Square to Freedom Square, the witnesses said.

Meanwhile, Mousavi also repeated his demand Saturday that the presidential vote be annulled.

In a letter addressed to the country's highest electoral authority, Mousavi renewed the demand in unprecedented defiance of Iran's supreme leader, who has effectively declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the June 12 election and ordered an end to protests by demonstrators who say Mousavi was the winner.

In the letter, Mousavi listed several allegations of voter fraud that he called proof the election should be held again. He did not mention Khamenei by name or say whether he supported ongoing street protests.

The letter was the first comment by Mousavi since Khamenei addressed the country during Friday prayers.

A massive rally in Freedom Square Monday set off three consecutive days ofprotests demanding the government cancel and rerun the elections. Mousavi says he won and Ahmadinejad stole the election through widespread fraud. Mousavi has not been seen since or issued public comment since a rally Thursday.

Web sites run by Mousavi supporters had said he planned to post a message, but there was no statement by the time of the planned street protests at 4 P.M. Some pro-reform Web sites called for people to take to the streets.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sternly warned opposition leaders Friday to end street protests or be held responsible for the bloodshed, the violence and rioting to come. The statement effectively closed the door to Mousavi's demand for a new election, ratcheting up the possibility of a violent confrontation.

Bomber reportedly attacks Khomeini shrine in Tehran

As reports of street clashes became public, state television said that two people were killed in a suicide bombing on Saturday at the shrine of Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini,.

Iran's English-language Press TV said eight people were also wounded in the bombing, which was likely to inflame anger among Iranians who revere the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Press TV later said the attacker also died, without saying whether it had counted the bomber in the two dead.

The semi-official Fars news agency said the bombing took place at the northern wing of the shrine. Its report was confirmed by a senior police official.

Amateur video showed dozens of Iranians running down a street after policefired tear gas at them. Shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" - God is Great - could be heard on the video, which could not be independently verified. People could be seen dragging away comrades bloodied by baton strikes.

Police clashed with protesters around Tehran immediately after the presidential election. Gunfire from a militia compound left at least seven dead, but further force had remained in check until Saturday.

Eyewitnesses said thousands of police and plainclothes militia members filled the streets to prevent rallies. Fire trucks took up positions in Revolution Square and riot police surrounded Tehran University, the site of recent clashes between protesters and security forces, one witness said.

Iran police official: We'll crack down on any protest

Tehran Province Police Chief Ahmad Reza Radan said that police would crack down on any gathering or protest rally which are being planned by some people. The head of the State Security Council also reiterated a warning to Mousavi that he would be held responsible if he encouraged protests.

Tehran University, which sits in the heart of downtown Tehran, was cordoned off by police and militia while students inside the university chanted Death to the dictator! witnesses said.

Shouts of "Viva Mousavi!" also could be heard. Witnesses said protesters wore black as a symbol of mourning for the dead and the allegedly stolen election, with wristbands in green, the emblem of Mousavi's self-described Green Wave movement.

All witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared government reprisals for speaking with the press. Iranian authorities have placed strict limits on the ability of foreign media to cover recent events, banning reporting from the street and allowing only phone interviews and information from officials sources such as state TV.

"I think the regime has taken an enormous risk in confronting this situation in the manner that they have," said Mehrdad Khonsari, a consultant to the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies.

"Now they'll have to hold their ground and hope that people don't keep coming back. But history has taught us that people in these situations lose their initial sense of fear and become emboldened by brutality," he said.

Mousavi and the two other candidates who ran against Ahmadinejad had been invited to meet with Iran's Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 clerics and Islamic law experts close to Khamenei that oversees elections. Its spokesman told state TV that Mousavi and the reformist candidate Mahdi Karroubi did not attend.

The council has said it was prepared to conduct a limited recount of ballots at sites where candidates claim irregularities but Mousavi's supporters did not withdraw his demands for a new election.

Both houses of the U.S. Congress approved a resolution on Friday condemning the ongoing violence by the Iranian government and its suppression of the Internet and cell phones.

The government has blocked Web sites such as BBC Farsi, Facebook, Twitter and several pro-Mousavi sites that are conduits for Iranians to tell the world about protests and violence.

Text messaging has not been working normally for many days, and cell phoneservice in Tehran is frequently down.

In an interview taped Friday with CBS, Obama said he is very concerned by the tenor and tone of Khamenei's comments. He also said that how Iran's leaders approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will signal what Iran is and is not.

A spokesman for Mousavi said Friday the opposition leader was not under arrest but was not allowed to speak to journalists or stand at a microphone at rallies. Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf told the AP from Paris it was even becoming difficult to reach people close to Mousavi. He said he had not heard from Mousavi's camp since Khamenei's address.