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After a lull, protests revive in Iran

Witnesses describe the unauthorized rally in Tehran Sunday that was ultimately broken up by police and militia.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 29, 2009

Protesters flash victory signs during a demonstration in Tehran Sunday. Defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi on Saturday rejected authorities' proposals for a partial recount of votes from this month's election and repeated his demand the entire ballot be annulled.

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Istanbul, Turkey

Iranian protesters continue to challenge disputed election results, even as their numbers dwindle in the face of a widespread crackdown by security forces and their leader remains out of sight.

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Several thousand Iranians held an unauthorized rally on Sunday to challenge the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, using an annual commemoration day – for a 1981 bombing that killed more than 70 of Iran's top revolutionary leaders – as an excuse to gather.

The protests were broken up by police wielding batons and firing tear gas. One witness told the Monitor that the demonstrators included conservative and older women dressed all in black chadors – who were among the most abusive in their anger toward the basiji militiamen.

"Savages!" shouted one woman. "How can an Iranian strike his Iranian brothers and sisters?"

"They've disgraced the regime," said another older woman, according to this witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. "Did we have a revolution so they could spill our children's blood?"

Mousavi out of the public eye

Defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has not been seen in public for more than a week. He addressed the rally near Tehran's Ghoba mosque by a mobile phone, which supporters held up to a megaphone.

When riot police began to move in Sunday, protesters locked their arms briefly to hold them back, before they were forced to disband and had to flee. The witness to the rally said that politics had now changed in Iran, even if eventually the protests – which just two weeks ago brought hundreds of thousands of Iranians onto the street – are completely quelled.

"This unprecedented wave of public dissent has set in motion a current that may eventually lead to the regime's demise," says the witness.

This Iranian has been struck by the severity and tone of those calling into Persian-language satellite TV broadcasts such as Voice of America – especially against Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei.

"Watching VOA every night, people call in from far-off provinces – Baluchestan, Ahvaz, Ilaam, etc. – to curse Khamenei openly and vehemently, and say that 70 percent voted Mousavi in their hometowns, large and small alike," says the witness. "It would appear, based on public feedback, that the election was indeed stolen ... and that this assertion is not mere speculation."

Ripping out satellite dishes

Shouts from the rooftops each night of "Alahu Akbar!" or "God is great," gained in determination on Sunday, the witness said, after losing some steam the previous four days when nothing happened on the streets. It was a peaceful tactic used against the pro-West shah in the run-up to the 1979 Islamic revolution.

To prevent Iranians from watching the VOA or BBC Persian service – which the Iranian leadership has accused, along with Western governments, of engineering the protests – security forces and basiji have stormed some neighborhoods, ripping out illegal satellite dishes.

They have also arrested people for shouting "God is great" from their rooftops, a source of ironic mirth for many Iranians, that such a thing is possible in an Islamic republic. Click here for YouTube video apparently shot Saturday night.

Protesters now fill jail cells

One protester released from Tehran's Evin prison told the witness the facility was jammed with "thousands" of people, including every resident of one five-story apartment building with 10 units, rounded up for chanting.

"This shows the regime is not at all as unruffled as it would like to project," says the witness. "Their normal paranoia has gone haywire to include millions of internal dissidents."

Protesters were trying to organize on Monday a "human chain," similar to the one that brought out so many Mousavi supporters wearing green along Tehran's miles-long Vali Asr Avenue just days before the June 12 vote. The regime appeared to be taking Monday's effort seriously; sources in Tehran said the mobile phone system was shut off when the protest was meant to begin.

With text-message services often shut off, protesters are trying to communicate by e-mail, or – like on Sunday – handing out leaflets of the next events by hand, before they are broken up by security forces.

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