Police Disperse Iranian Protesters with Tear Gas

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 15, 2011

(by Ali Akbar Dareini, WashingtonTimes.com) TEHRAN (AP) – Clashes between Iranian police and tens of thousands of protesters wracked central Tehran on Monday with security forces beating and firing tear gas at opposition supporters looking to evoke Egypt’s recent popular uprising.

The opposition called for a demonstration Monday in solidarity with Egypt’s popular revolt that a few days earlier forced the president there to resign after nearly 30 years in office. The rally is the first major show of strength for Iran’s cowed opposition in more than a year.

Police used tear gas against the protesters in central Tehran’s Enghelab, or Revolution, square and in Imam Hossein square, as well as in other nearby main streets. Demonstrators responded by setting garbage cans on fire to protect themselves from the stinging white clouds.

“We support you Mousavi,” some of the demonstrators chanted, referring to a prominent opposition leader. “An Iranian dies but doesn’t accept humiliation” and “Death to the dictator,” they said, referring to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Security forces on motorcycles could also be seen chasing protesters through the streets, according to eyewitnesses.

Foreign media are banned from covering street protests in Iran.

Following the announcements by the opposition that they would attempt to hold a new rally in soldarity with the Egypt uprising, Iran’s security forces cut phone lines and blockaded the home of an opposition leader in attempts to stop him attending the planned rally.

Police and militiamen poured onto the streets of Tehran to challenge the marches, which officials worry could turn into demonstrations against Iran’s ruling system.

The security clampdown is reminiscent of the backlash that crushed a wave of massive protests after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June 2009. But opposition supporters revived a tactic from the unrest, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Great, from rooftops and balconies into the early hours Monday in a sign of defiance toward Iran’s leadership.

The reformist website kaleme.com said police stationed several cars in front of the home of Mir Hossein Mousavi ahead of the demonstration called for Monday in central Tehran.

Mr. Mousavi and fellow opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi have been under house arrest since last week after they asked the government for permission to hold a rally on Feb. 14 in support of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

On Sunday, the opposition renewed its call to supporters to rally, and accused the government of hypocrisy by voicing support for the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings while refusing to allow Iranian political activists to stage a peaceful demonstration.

“These elements are fully aware of the illegality of their demand and know that they won’t get permission for revolt,” Interior Ministry official Mahdi Alikhani was quoted by the official Islamic Republican News Agency as saying late Sunday.

Esmaeil Gerami Moghaddam, spokesman for Karroubi’s National Confidence Party, countered on the party’s website that under Iran’s constitution there is no need for government permission to hold a peaceful rally.

Across central Tehran, riot police, many on motorbikes, fanned out to prevent any demonstration, witnesses said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from authorities.

The uprising in Egypt opened a rare chance for the political gambit by Iran’s opposition.

Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed the Egyptians who toppled President Hosni Mubarak took inspiration from Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought down a Western-backed monarchy. Iran’s opposition movement used the comments to push the government into a corner and request permission to march in support of Egypt’s protesters.

Iranian officials quickly backpedaled and said no pro-Egypt rallies were allowed – bringing sharp criticism from the White House and others.

On Thursday, White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor said: “For all of its empty talk about Egypt, the government of Iran should allow the Iranian people the same universal right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate in Tehran that the people are exercising in Cairo.”

Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Mousavi have compared the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia with their own postelection protest movement. Mr. Mousavi said Iran’s demonstrations were the starting point but that all the uprisings aimed at ending the “oppression of the rulers.”

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is on a visit to Iran, urged governments in the Middle East to listen to the demands of their people.

“When leaders and heads of countries do not pay attention to the demands of their nations, the people themselves take action to achieve their demands,” IRNA quoted Mr. Gul as saying Monday.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians peacefully took to the streets in support of Mr. Mousavi after the June 2009 vote, claiming Ahmadinejad was re-elected through massive vote fraud.

A heavy government crackdown suppressed the protests. The opposition has not been able to hold a major protest since December 2009.

Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC.   Associated Press.  Reprinted from the Washington Times for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.


Questions

1. How did Iranian security forces attempt to prevent protesters from gathering to demonstrate on Monday?

2. What did government security forces do to break up the demonstrations once they began?

3. How did demonstrators attempt to protect themselves from the attacks by security forces?

4. Why did opposition leaders accuse the Iranian government of hypocrisy?

5. How did opposition leader Esmaeil Mohgaddam defend the people’s right to protest in Iran?

6. Read “Background” below the questions, and watch the video under “Resources” below “Background.” The regime in Iran imprisons and is known to torture those arrested for protesting. How would you describe the protesters in Iran (e.g. brave, determined, foolish…) Explain your answer.

7. What might drive a person to risk imprisonment to participate in a protest?


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Background

OBSERVATION ON MIDDLE EAST PROTESTS:

  • For the second time in two years, tens of thousands of Iranian citizens are protesting in the streets of Tehran against their repressive government. Although thousands were jailed, tortured, and killed by Iranian security forces in the first waves of protests in 2009, a strong populist revolution is still alive and struggling in Iran.
  • As opposed to the revolution in Egypt, an overthrow of the regime in Iran could be staggeringly beneficial to the United States. Egypt is almost certain to move away from friendship with the U.S. and the treaty with Israel, and toward an oppressive Islamic rule as orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. There are only potential disasters lurking in this regime change.
  • A change in governance in Iran, on the other hand, likely could result in a reduction in antagonism toward “The Great Satan” and “The Little Satan” (i.e., Iran’s characterization of the US and Israel). Even more importantly, it could significantly slow or completely halt their nuclear weapons program, which is the greatest single threat to global stability in human history. (from “The Sound of Silence” posted at americanthinker.com)

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 opposition has not been able to hold a major protest since December 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)

THE BASIJ MILITIA

  • The Basij militia…receive their orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. However they have also been described as “a loosely allied group of organizations” including “many groups controlled by local clerics.”
  • Consisting of young Iranians who volunteer to join this force, often in exchange for official benefits, the Basij are most notable for their loyalty to the supreme leader Khamenei.
  • Currently Basij serve as an auxiliary force engaged in [various] activities … more famously morals policing and the suppression of dissident gatherings. … They have a record of involvement in many cases of human rights abuses.
  • The force has often been present and reacting against the widespread protests which occurred following the 2009 Iranian presidential election and in the months following.
  • …reports [in June 2009] linked the Basij militia to murder of civilians in Azadi Square, Tehran, during the 2009 Iranian election protests.
  • [also in June], Human Rights Watch said the Basij were raiding homes at night, destroying property, beating people, and confiscating satellite dishes. They said the raids were to stop anti-government chanting and to prevent people from watching foreign news broadcasts.
  • During this same period, several Basij members have been filmed breaking into houses and shooting into crowds.  (from wikipedia)

Resources

Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Iran and the Middle East.

Read background information on Iran at the U.S. State Department website state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5314.htm and at the CIA World FactBook.

Watch a video “Iran Basiji (government security forces) Attacking Peaceful Protesters On The Street – Feb 14, 2011” that was posted at youtube.