The Iranian government has responded brutally to the fresh wave of opposition rallies sweeping the country.

The regime has recieved international censure for for its harsh crackdown on the protesters, who have been out in the streets since December 19.

The death 10 days ago of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, an influential opposition cleric, triggered widespread grief in Iran. Mourners quickly turned his funeral into political rallies in several cities across the country.

The demonstrations, which are becoming more violent, concided on December 27, with the day of the Ashura, one of holiest religious commemorations for Shia muslims. As a result, the government and the opposition have traded accusations of religious impropriety.

Government officials such as Ali Larijani, Iran's parliament speaker, have accused the opposition of "insulting religion", while Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, the representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described them as "enemies of God".

But the opposition hit back, claiming that it was in fact the government who had acted illegally by attacking the protesters, who they describe as "peaceful and law-abiding".

Since Montazeri's death, the opposition seems to have gained a new momentum, but are they taking advantage of religious events to show force? Are these protests affecting the stability of the government? And how deep is the rift among Iranians?

Inside Story presenter Hoda Abdelhamid is joined in her discussion by Gary Sick, a professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, and Kian Mokhtari, a columnist and journalist.

This edition of Inside Story aired from Tuesday, December 29, 2009.

Source: Al Jazeera