'Death to China' heard at Rafsanjani sermon. Why?

Protesters also targeted Russia. Both countries had quickly recognized President Ahmadinejad's reelection victory last month.

By , Correspondent

The US received a tiny reprieve from playing the role of the "Great Satan" in Iran Friday when protesters directed their ire toward a few of America's global rivals instead.

"Death to China!" and "Death to Russia!" chanted supporters of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi during a sermon by influential former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, according to news reports. Mr. Rafsanjani used the speech to criticize the government's crackdown on dissent following the contested June 12 election.

The Associated Press reports that the slogan broke out after hard-line supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yelled out the familiar "Death to America" chant during the speech. And Nico Pitney of The Huffington Post posted a YouTube video showing an outdoors rally in Tehran today, in which he says the protesters are chanting in Farsi "Russia, do us a favor and let go of our country!"

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Both regimes recognized Ahmadinejad's reelection
But the US government shouldn't get too hopeful that it will be replaced as Public Enemy No. 1.

The enmity likely stems partly from Russia and China's early recognition of Mr. Ahmadinejad's government-certified victory in the disputed election. Mr. Mousavi maintains that the vote was fradulent, and his supporters are bitter toward the two regimes for backing Ahmadinejad.

China's treatment of Uighurs also a factor
The sentiment toward China also may be related to the Chinese government's forceful clamping down on violent ethnic riots between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang Province on July 5. China says that 46 Uighurs died in the violence, while Uighur exile groups maintain the number is much higher.

Several accounts of Rafsanjani's speech say the chants against China broke out after the cleric condemned China's crackdown in Xinjiang. The Guardian, liveblogging the speech, reports: "Rafsanjani criticizes China's suppression of Uighur unrest. His comments are greeted with rebellious cries of 'Down with China.' "

Saeed Valadbaygi, liveblogging the sermon at Revolutionary Road, has this account: "Rafsanjani condemns China. People chanted 'Death to China.' He asks that people stop their chants." He quotes Rafsanjani as saying "China has a rational government. It must look at how it can benefit from its relations with the Islamic world. We hope that we will no longer be witness to such atrocities towards Muslims in China or anywhere else in the world."

Iran censored coverage of Uighur unrest
The Monitor reported recently that Muslim reaction to the unrest in Xinjiang has been, for the most part, notably muted. (An exception is Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the events "genocide" against the Uighurs, the Monitor reported. And on the extremist fringe, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb threatened to attack Chinese citizens in North Africa in retaliation.)

The Iranian government has been criticized for its tepid response to the Uighur killings. The New York Times reported that three prominent clerics condemned the government for not denouncing China's treatment of Uighurs, criticism laden with pointed domestic implications as well.

One of the clerics, Ayatollah Youssef Sanei, a reformist, drew a sardonic parallel, suggesting that Iran, which considers itself the defender of Muslims worldwide, could not criticize China’s repressive tactics while it was doing the same thing. He also said Iran’s silence was related to its commercial, military and political links with China.

The Guardian's Tehran correspondent said that Iranian state-run media censored coverage of the riots in Xinjiang, and "did not refer to Uighur protesters as Muslims, but called them 'hooligans.' "

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