(by Farnaz Fassihi, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) - Thousands of protesters in Iran took a day of annual anti-American rallies commemorating the siege of the U.S. Embassy and turned it into a major protest against their government.
Security forces fired tear gas and clashed violently with opposition protesters in cities across Iran, after demonstrators used the 30th anniversary of the storming of the embassy as cover for their first significant action in weeks. “It has been a good day for the opposition. They have come out in big numbers and succeeded in hijacking what the regime was hoping would be a rally against U.S. foreign policy,” said Nader Hashemi, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Denver.
Amateur videos support eyewitness accounts of tens of thousands of people, in scattered clusters, marching in the streets of Tehran as well as in other big cities such as Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz and Rasht. The security presence was strong and organized, witnesses say, and focused on dispersing the crowds. University campuses across Iran also erupted, as students staged sit-ins and protests against the government.
In Tehran, security forces attacked opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi, firing tear gas at him, according to Mohamad Taghi Karroubi, the cleric’s son, on the opposition’s “Mowjcamp” Web site. Mr. Karroubi suffered slight skin injuries, but one of his bodyguards was seriously hurt, according to the account. “Today the government of the coup proved once again that it will stop at nothing to crush the massive wave of demonstrations,” said a statement by the opposition posted on the site.
Another opposition leader and former candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi also planned to attend the demonstration but security forces on motorcycles surrounded his office and blocked him from entering his car, according to opposition Web sites.
Iran’s official news agencies played down the demonstrations, calling them an enemy plot to derail the significance of the day. In Tehran, a much smaller progovernment rally took place in central districts of the capital outside of the former U.S. Embassy, as it does every year, according to eyewitnesses and video posted on Iranian Web sites.
The progovernment demonstrators chanted “Death to America” and burned the U.S. flag.
A few blocks away, opposition supporters chanted “Death to the Dictator” and stomped on a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shouting “murderer,” according to video clips.
Antiriot police on motorcycles and on foot chased the crowd with batons and plainclothes Basij militia attacked demonstrators with wooden sticks, according to these accounts. They arrested scores of people and shoved them into buses in handcuffs. Demonstrators wore green, the color of the opposition.
For months, the regime has struggled to put a lid on simmering unrest. “We are still angry and therefore we must go show them how we really feel at every chance we get,” said Mehdi, a protester reached by phone in Tehran who asked his last name not be used.
Opposition supporters reached by phone in Tehran said security forces chased the crowds away by slapping and kicking them. There were no reports of injuries or deaths.
At Tehran University, students brought down Mr. Ahmadinejad’s picture to whooping cheers and chants of “God is Great,” according to video posts circulating on the Internet. At one point, one crowd of protesters turned its message toward U.S. President Barack Obama, chanting, “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them.”
The White House said it was concerned over the clashes occurring in Iran, and Mr. Obama reiterated his message on moving forward with Iran in a statement issued for the occasion. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama administration leaders “hope greatly that violence will not spread.”
Write to Farnaz Fassihi at email@example.com.
1. What was the purpose of the pro-government rallies in Iran yesterday?
2. a) What were people protesting against in Iran yesterday?
b) How many people protested just in the streets of Tehran?
3. How did Iranian security forces respond to the peaceful protesters? Be specific.
4. How did Iran’s government media report on the protesters?
5. How did President Obama respond to Iranian protesters’ rally and appeal to him with their chant “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them”?
6. Watch the video under “Resources” below. How would you describe the protestors?
7. What type of support, if any, do you think the U.S. should give to the Iranian protesters?
2009 Iranian election protests
Protests following the 2009 Iranian presidential election against alleged electoral fraud and in support of opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, …occurred in Tehran and other major cities in Iran and around the world starting from June 13, 2009. The protests were [called the] Green Revolution…, reflecting unsuccessful presidential candidate Mousavi’s campaign color…
…All three opposition candidates claimed that the votes were manipulated and the election was rigged [in favor of President Mahmoud Admadinejad], and candidates Mohsen Rezaee and Mousavi have lodged official complaints. Mousavi announced that he “won’t surrender to this manipulation” before lodging an official appeal against the result to the Guardian Council on June 14.[Supreme Leader] Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared the unprecedented voter turnout and coinciding religious holidays as a “divine assessment” and urged the nation to unite, but later ostensibly ordered an investigation into the claims of voting fraud and irregularities. Mousavi [was] not optimistic about his appeal, saying that many of the group’s members “during the election were not impartial”. Ahmadinejad called the election “completely free” and the outcome “a great victory” for Iran, dismissing the protests as little more than “passions after a soccer match”.
Police and a paramilitary group called the Basij determinedly suppressed rioting, using batons, pepper spray, sticks and, in some cases, firearms. The Iranian government has confirmed the deaths of 36 people during the protests, while independently unconfirmed reports by supporters of Mr Mousavi allege that there have been 72 deaths (twice as many) in the three months following the disputed election. Iranian authorities have closed universities in Tehran, blocked web sites, blocked cell phone transmissions and text messaging, and banned rallies. (from wikipedia.org)
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Iran and the Middle East.
Watch a video from November 4th 2009. The person who posted this video on YouTube made the following comments [does not cite the city name, but is most likely Tehran]: “taken in Felestin street near Keshavarz blvd. A group of protesters are hiding in a construction site, while security forces are looking for them. The forces are also arresting two young people and beating them. After the video was taken, half the people in that construction site were arrested by security forces.”