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Iran's Ahmadinejad 'ready' to talk with America

But despite their leader's message to Obama, Iranians at Tuesday's 30th anniversary rally continued to chant 'Death to America.'

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The day is one of triumph for many Iranians, who deem this anniversary a national holiday even if they complain that the revolution has not achieved its promise of freedom and prosperity.

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Entire families walked for miles to the event in Tehran, holding placards that read "30 springs of freedom, 30 years of pride," and wearing their nationalism on their sleeve. Steady chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" marked routes to the square, along with anti-US banners and paintings criticizing Israel's war in Gaza. State TV showed a shoe-throwing contest, with posters of US and Israeli leaders as targets.

But also on display was the polarization that will shape the June presidential race between Ahmadinejad and his main rival, reformist former President Mohamad Khatami. None of the senior politicians who joined the march created such a reaction as the man who won by landslides in 1997 and 2001 on vows of looser social constraints and restoring rule of law.

Mr. Khatami stepped into the thick crowd. As he passed, many Iranians hailed him, even commenting repeatedly on how well dressed the cleric was. But there were others who yelled "Liar! Liar!" and young ideologues who questioned his devotion to Iran's Islamic system and shouted "Death to the person against the velayat-e faqih!"

A few men began deliberately ramming Khatami's group from behind, adding to the chaos. The candidate and his entourage, after being refused entry at the gates of Sharif University, eventually were able to get out of the crowd, with Khatami's bodyguards whisking him into another building.

The pro-Ahmadinejad shouts that rose were swiftly matched by Khatami supporters in a noisy face-off; a scene reminiscent of those that lead to clashes between reformists and hard-liners during Khatami's presidency.

"The policy [Khatami] has would take the country to a dead end; with Ahmadinejad our standing in the world has only risen," said rightwing chanter Ismail Abdi. "This is not just the word of one student, but millions of Iranians." Voters, he said, "will question making friends with imperialism."

"Most of the people you see here are the friends of Khatami," said engineer Mehdi Rajaie, who took up the shout for Khatami.

Banker Hamid Jalali also praised Khatami, and yelled for him. "Ahmadinejad thinks he is strong with 10 million votes, but Khatami got more than 20 million," he said, still sweating from the exertion of the crowd. "People are angry with this economic situation and think Ahmadinejad's policies are wrong. People are 100 percent going to … turn away from Ahmadinejad."