Tehran clamps down on pro-reform protests; 1 shot dead

Police fire tear gas to quell first major rally since 2009; demonstration is the first major show of strength for Iran’s cowed opposition in more than a year.

By OREN KESSLER, AP
February 14, 2011 20:32
3 minute read.
Iranian protestors attending an anti-gov't protest

iran protests 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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One protester has been shot dead by police officers during a banned protest taking place in Iran's capital, Tehran, Monday, semi-official Iranian news agency Fars reported.

Clashes between Iranian police and tens of thousands of protesters wracked central Tehran on Monday, with security forces beating and firing tear gas at opposition supporters.

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The opposition called the demonstration in solidarity with Egypt’s popular revolt that a few days earlier forced president Hosni Mubarak to resign after nearly 30 years in office.

The rally is the first major show of strength for Iran’s cowed opposition in more than a year.

Police used tear gas against the protesters in central Tehran’s Enghelab (Revolution) Square and in Imam Hossein Square, as well as in other nearby main streets. Demonstrators responded by setting garbage cans on fire to protect themselves from the stinging white clouds.

Security forces cut phone lines and blockaded the home of an opposition leader in attempts to stop him from attending the rally. Police and militiamen poured onto the streets of Tehran to challenge the marches, which officials worry could turn into demonstrations against Iran’s ruling system.

“We support you, Mousavi,” some of the demonstrators chanted, referring to the prominent opposition leader.

“An Iranian dies but doesn’t accept humiliation” and “Death to the dictator,” they said, referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.



US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed support for the tens of thousands of protesters in Iran’s capital, saying they “deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and are part of their own birthright.” Speaking to reporters after meeting House Speaker John Boehner, Clinton says she and others in Barack Obama’s administration “very clearly and directly support the aspirations of the people who are in the streets” of Tehran.

She spoke of the “hypocrisy” of the Iranian government that hailed the protests in Egypt but has tried to suppress opposition at home.

At least 25 people were treated for injuries, and one man died after being found on the street with severe head trauma, according to family members.

Security personnel on motorcycles could be seen chasing protesters through the streets, according to eyewitnesses.

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a senior Middle East researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, said he views Egypt-style unrest in Iran as unlikely in the short-term.

“Can it happen in Iran? Certainly not today, and probably not in 18 days, or anything approaching it,” he told The Jerusalem Post, while noting that the possibility of shaking the regime’s hold on power has already been proven, as long as there is a powerful enough trigger. “What will be the trigger? The last time, it was the fixing of election results,” he said.

Maddy-Weitzman noted that Iran’s economy is qualitatively different from that of Egypt.

“The Iranian economy is less vulnerable to mass popular protests, in one sense, because it has oil,” he told the Post. “For popular protest to succeed in Iran, there has to be a broad alliance of disparate social and political forces. The 2009 protest wanted reform and/or democracy while maintaining an Islamic Republic.”

More ambitious demands on the part of protesters are unlikely, he said. Hagai M. Segal, a lecturer on Middle Eastern Affairs at New York University in London, also highlighted stark differences between Egypt and Iran. In the latter, he said, there are security forces eager to do “exactly what the Egyptian military were not willing to do – beat, and even shoot and kill, citizens protesting on the streets.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and fiercely loyalist Basij militia are happy to do so for the regime, and even consider it their “sacred duty,” he said.

Try as protesters may, that difference all but precludes the possibility of Iran seeing a successful revolt similar to Egypt’s, Segal said.

Iran’s security clampdown is reminiscent of the backlash that crushed a wave of massive protests after Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in June 2009. But opposition supporters revived a tactic from the unrest, shouting “Allahu Akbar” from rooftops and balconies into the early hours Monday, in a sign of defiance toward Iran’s leadership.

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