Thousands rally in Tehran with bitter new cry

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 9, 2009 

TEHRAN, Iran — Chanting a bitter new rallying cry, thousands of Iranians marched through Tehran Thursday in the latest protest over last month's disputed presidential election, but teargas-firing riot police blocked them from reaching their intended goal of Tehran university.

"Mojtaba, we wish you dead, and never to become the leader," was the new cry in the streets, referring to the son of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to many analysts, Khamenei's son holds the real power in Iran and along with Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi was responsible for a virtual coup before the votes were counted to retain President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in office.

Riot police blocked the main streets of Tehran and dispersed protesters with tear gas, pepper spray and metal clubs, and the Basij, the militia that's been at the forefront of the Iranian government's attempts to crush the opposition, threatened demonstrators and in some cases struck them. A McClatchy special correspondent heard weapons fire and saw people being removed by ambulance, but did not see anyone killed.

Witnesses reported more than 30 people were arrested in Ferdowski square, one of the main squares of central Tehran.

Videos reportedly taken on Thursday and appearing on anti-government Web sites showed thousands of protesters marching peacefully down a major thoroughfare and halting and splintering when police fired tear gas cannisters into their ranks. The protesters were of all ages, and included women in chadors, and many wore sunglasses to conceal their identity handkerchiefs to cover their mouths.

The occasion for the march was to commemorate student protests that occurred 10 years ago, which ended in a police raid of student dormitories in the University of Tehran. At the time it was the biggest anti-government demonstrations held since the 1979 Iranian revolution, and protests have been held regularly on July 9 since then.

Thursday's was one of the smallest public protests since the disputed June 12 election in which opposition leader Mir Hossain Mousavi was supposedly defeated by Ahmadinejad, but the anger and determination of the participants in the face of an enormous crackdown showed that the authorities are unable to maintain control.

Thursday's protests took place despite direct threats by Morteza Tamadon, the governor of Tehran, who threatened to "crush" the demonstrators.

Tamadon was quoted by Irna, the official news agency, as saying that the government is responsible for the security of the population and of society, and that it had not issued a permit for the demonstration. "If some people want to act under the influence of anti revolution TV channels, they will be crushed under the steps of our vigilant people," he said.

Mousavi apparently didn't participate in Thursday's demonstration, and an aide said his followers are "worried about his life."

However, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Mousavi's campaign manager in the June polls, said the latest protest, which linked the student-led movement of 1999 with the "green movement" that sprang up on the eve of the presidential elections, will continue regardless of what happens to Mousavi.

"Every Iranian is a campaign headquarters himself. Every Iranian has to be both a follower and a commander for this movement," Makhmalbaf said, who spoke to reporters on by phone from France. "We are prepared in the case that the government imprisons Mousavi, we will not consider this movement finished. This movement will go on."

He said Moussavi was "one ring in this chain. In the event that we lose him as a leader, this chain will not be lost."

In a speech to the European Parliament, Makhmalbaf asked European leaders "not to recognize Ahmadinejad as the legitimate president of Iran and support the Iranian peoples movement" — and to penalize any European firms that are selling Web filtering and wire tapping devices to the Iranian government.

(McClatchy is not identifying its correspondent in Tehran due to security considerations. Grace Chung contributed to this article from Washington.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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