Iran’s opposition to hold mass protest today

By OREN KESSLER, AP
February 20, 2011 01:02

Demonstrators return to Bahraini capital’s central square; WikiLeaks: Bahrain’s opposition got training from Hezbollah.




PRO-GOVERNMENT IRANIANS

PRO-GOVERNMENT IRANIANS 311. (photo credit: AP)

Iran’s opposition has invited Iranians to attend a massive protest rally in Tehran and other cities on Sunday to mark a week since the deaths of two people in earlier demonstrations. The opposition website kaleme.com said the rallies will be a “fight against religious dictatorship” in Iran.

The announcement came just a day after hardliners called for the execution of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, opposition leaders who are already under house arrest, for organizing last week’s rallies.

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At least two people were killed in clashes last Monday between security forces and opposition protesters in Tehran. The rallies were the largest to be held by the opposition in more than a year.

On Saturday, Iranian authorities freed two German journalists arrested four months ago after they interviewed the son of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

An Iranian court threw out their 20-month prison sentence, commuting it to a fine of $50,000 each and clearing the way for their release, statemedia reported. The state newspaper said it expected them to leave the country in the coming days, perhaps as early as Sunday. Germany’s foreign minister arrived in Tehran Saturday night in apparent preparation to bring them home.

The Germans – a reporter and a photographer for the Berlin-based mass-circulation tabloid Bild am Sonntag – got caught up in one of the many confrontations between Iran and the West, this one over the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

The mother of two was convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning, generating widespread international outrage.

In the Persian Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain, thousands of singing and dancing protesters streamed back into Manama’s central Pearl Square on Saturday after leaders withdrew tanks and riot police following a bloody crackdown by security forces.

The royal family, which was quick to use force earlier this week against demonstrators in the landmark square that has been the heart of the anti-government demonstrations, appeared to back away from further confrontation following international pressure from the West.

The demonstrators had sought to emulate successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in attempting to bring political change to Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet – the centerpiece of Washington’s efforts to confront Iranian military influence in the region.

In a brief address on state TV, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, appealed for calm and political dialogue.

A leader of Al Wefaq, the Shi’ite opposition group, said the crown prince “did the right thing” by withdrawing security forces from the streets and letting people return to Pearl Square.

“The crown prince opened the door for dialogue because he prevented more killing from occurring and allowed people to demand their rights,” said the leader, Abdul-Jalil Khalil.

People circling through the square clapped, whistled and wept. Some wore white sheets symbolizing their readiness for martyrdom, while others carried Bahraini flags, flowers and signs that said “Peaceful.”

“We are victorious!” they chanted as they marched back into the square that has been the headquarters for their revolt against the Sunni monarchy in the predominantly Shi’ite island nation.

They also chanted: “The people want the removal of the regime.”

As night fell, defiant protesters erected barriers, wired a sound system, set up a makeshift medical tent and deployed lookouts to warn of approaching security forces.

Bahrain’s trade unions called for a general strike on Sunday. Some students on the square said they would skip class for a week to mourn those killed in the uprising.

“The sooner we return to calm, the sooner we can reach our goals,” Salman said. “Citizens of Bahrain, let’s work together with all political blocs to help return the security situation to normal so we can announce a day of mourning for those we’ve lost.”

The violence forced the cancelation of a lower-tier auto race in Bahrain scheduled for this weekend. Formula One officials also are weighing whether to cancel the season-opening event in Bahrain on March 13 – a move that would be a huge blow to the nation’s prestige.

Ibrahim Sharif, head of the opposition Waad Society, an umbrella group of protest factions, said that pulling the armed forces off the streets of Manama was not enough. He demanded guarantees that protesters could stage rallies without fear of being attacked.

Some demonstrators were wary of Bahrain’s leaders, despite the military withdrawal.

Hassan Youssef, 33, said the crown prince’s speech was self-serving.

“He is afraid for his Formula One contract and thinks by just telling us to calm down we will listen,” Youssef said. “We want the entire royal family to step aside. We don’t want dialogue.”

A leaked 2008 document included in the WikiLeaks diplomatic cable trove revealed that Bahrain’s opposition may have received training from Hezbollah, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Friday.

The cable revealed that according to Bahrain’s king, the country’s opposition had received training from the Shi’ite militant group in Lebanon.

In the cable, King Hamad told senior US military figures – including Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of all allied forces in Iraq – that Syria was “complicit” in the training by providing Bahrainis with false passports.

The claims were included in a leaked embassy cable sent by US diplomats in Bahrain to Washington.

“King Hamad related the report that Bahrainis were receiving training from Hezbollah in Lebanon, but admitted he had no definitive proof,” the cable said.

“He also speculated that the Syrian government was complicit, and ‘must be’ helping these Bahrainis travel without passport verification as tourists.”

The cable added: “Post has heard versions of this theory from Bahraini officials in the past, but despite our requests the GOB [Government of Bahrain] has been unable to provide convincing evidence.”

Later Hamad added that Bahrain, a key US ally, had been urged by Iran to support its efforts, and those of “Iraqi insurgents, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and Syria to drive American forces from the Gulf.”

“With friends like these, who needs enemies?” the king asked Petraeus.


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