Iranian protesters, police clash on US Embassy takeover anniversary
Iran's government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned a rally on the anniversary of the US Embassy takeover. But pro-democracy demonstrators staged counter-protests. Iranian police clashed violently with them.
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Violence erupted in the Iranian capital and other cities today, as police beat and possibly fired upon anti-government protesters who were seeking to disrupt a procession commemorating the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the US Embassy.
The violence comes after weeks of simmering tension between the Iranian regime and a protest movement that had largely gone underground since violent clashes in July. Today's incident suggests that the movement is far from dormant.
The violence today also lays bare the two poles competing for control of Iran's future.
Thousands turned out in the capital's Haft-e Tir square to commemorate the day in 1979 when students loyal to Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, took over the US Embassy. They shouted "Death to America!" – a show of support for Iran's conservatively religious, and increasingly authoritarian regime. But another group also convened on the square, shouting a different message: "Death to dictators!", according to the New York Times.
The second group was composed of supporters of Iran's leading opposition politician, Mir Hussein Mousavi, who lost an election bid in June to Iran's incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After allegations surfaced that the election was rigged, reformist Iranians flooded the streets in protest, and united in a diffuse protest network linked by the internet and mobile phonesf.
Together they staged weeks of nationwide protests that shook Iran like nothing since the revolution in 1979. But police and security forces brutally quashed their efforts, killing at least 72 people, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
Today's demonstrations, although not as large as those in the summer, were a continuation of those protests and appeared to be spreading to other cities. The Guardian reported clashes in the southwestern city of Shiraz. And like those in the past, they appear to have been violently suppressed.
Citing an Iranian opposition website, Reuters reported that police had opened fire on protesters, although whether that is true and how many casualties there may be could not immediately be confirmed. The Associated Press reported that Iranian security forces fired tear gas on protesters and beat them with batons.
A video posted today on the Guardian's live blog appeared to show people bleeding from wounds after clashes with security personnel. Another purported to show police attacking demonstrators, but it was since removed from YouTube.
Tension has been building in Iran for weeks in the build-up to today's anniversary. Hard-line politicians, police, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have all warned the opposition not to stage rallies today, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
The warnings were a response to rumblings that the reform movement would use the occasion today to launch a large protest. According to observers, the movement has gone underground since the violent crackdown in July, but has been planning all along to use this day to launch protests.
Tara Mahtafar, an Iranian observer reporting for the Tehran Bureau, an independent Iranian news service supported by PBS Frontline, writes:
By targeting dates of historic significance to the regime, opposition supporters aim to 'subvert' ideological symbols touted for 30 years by the Islamic Republic and thereby re-brand that date as an ideology-free 'green' day, the trademark color of the country's burgeoning pro-democracy movement.
The route for today's protests was planned a month ago, using Facebook and a network of reformist websites, Mahtafar says.
It remains to be seen if today's protests will fan flames similar to the summer's election controversy. For now, they are a test both of the Iranian regime's 30-year religious rule, and the ability of the reform movement to keep pressing it.