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Iran opposition returns to streets, energized by Egypt

The Green Movement showed signs of revitalization Monday as tens of thousands of Iranians rallied and clashed with police.

By Staff Writer / February 14, 2011

Energized by the people of Egypt and Tunisia, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets during an antigovernment protest in Tehran on Monday.

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Energized by people power revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, the opposition in Iran took to the streets on Monday, breaking a spell of fear and intimidation for the first time in more than a year.

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Security forces fired tear gas, paintball guns, and bullets into the air, to disperse crowds as tens of thousands of protesting Iranians defied rally bans in Tehran and major cities to voice their solidarity with Arab revolts and anger at Iran's hard-line leaders.

Officials had declared the opposition Green Movement a "corpse," while taking every measure to preempt a rekindling of past protests – and lethal street battles – that lasted for weeks after disputed June 2009 elections.

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The irony wasn't lost on Iran's latent opposition in recent days, as Iran's top leaders claimed to be at the forefront of a popular "Islamic awakening" that was sweeping across the Arab world – but would not allow it to touch Iran.

"The government tried to say this movement is dead, it's a corpse," says an observer in Tehran who could not be named. "But for a corpse, you don't organize maximum security forces all over Tehran. This is the most important point today.... Do [hard-liners] doubt finally? Or still hold the illusion that it's just a few hundred crazy people out there?"

"It's not that the number is huge by any standards," adds the observer. "It's huge because there was so much repression during the last year, so these people risking and coming out was beyond expectation."

The fact that there was any turnout at all, after the systematic measures taken against the Green Movement and its leaders since mid-2009 – among them executions, rape in detention, and stiff prison sentences – served to invigorate its foot soldiers.

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"People will definitely believe in themselves again," says a London-based Iranian analyst who closely monitored events on Monday. "The [Green] Movement showed it still has strength.... It has, at least in people's hearts and minds, [been given] great boost of morale and knowing the movement is still there."

The scenes on the streets on Monday resembled those of the protests of 2009 against the declared reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Scores, if not hundreds, died and thousands were arrested then. More than 100 were charged with fomenting a "velvet revolution" in a show trial.

'Death to the dictator'

On Monday cellphone video showed people chanting "Death to the dictator," and linking Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

One poster made for the event showed comparison pictures of Mr. Mubarak and President Ahmadinejad striking the same arms-raised-in-victory pose. That was a note struck by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called for the Iranian government to recognize the “aspirations” of its people, as it had for Egyptians.

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