Iran General News Iran protesters take to streets despite threats

Iran protesters take to streets despite threats

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ImageNew York Times: Thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on Thursday, clapping, chanting, almost mocking the authorities as they once again turned out in large numbers in defiance of the government’s threat to crush their protests with violence.

The New York Times

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
Published: July 9, 2009

ImageCAIRO — Thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on Thursday, clapping, chanting, almost mocking the authorities as they once again turned out in large numbers in defiance of the government’s threat to crush their protests with violence.

As tear gas canisters cracked and hissed in the middle of crowds, and baton-wielding police officers chased protesters up and down sidewalks, young people, some bloodied, ran for cover, but there was an almost festive feeling on the streets of Tehran, witnesses reported in e-mail exchanges.

A young woman, her clothing covered in blood, ran up Kargar Street, paused for a moment and said, “I am not scared, because we are in this together.”

The protesters set trash afire in the street, and shopkeepers locked their gates, then let demonstrators in to escape the wrath of the police. Hotels also served as havens, letting in protesters and locking out the authorities.

It has been almost four weeks since the polls closed and the government announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won re-election in a landslide.

And there have been almost four weeks of defiance, in the face of the government’s repeated, uncompromising and violent efforts to restore the status quo. The government did succeed in keeping people off the streets in the previous 11 days, leaving many to simmer on their own as political insiders and clerical heavyweights slugged it out behind the scenes.

But there was an opening to take to the streets again on Thursday in a collective show of defiance, and many protesters seized it, even though the principal opposition leaders stayed away. Mir Hussein Moussavi, who claims he won the election; another candidate, Mehdi Karroubi; and former President Mohammad Khatami have agreed to pursue their complaints through the legal system and to protest only when a permit is issued.

But the mood of the street never calmed. One witness said that had it not been for the overwhelming show of force, it appeared, tens of thousands would have turned out.

The day was supercharged from the start, with a protest called for 4 p.m. to honor the students who 10 years earlier were bloodied and jailed during a violent confrontation with the police.

Under a hot summer sun, police officers in riot gear patrolled the streets in roving bands of about 50. Then the crowds started to form, men, women and children packing the sidewalks. Traffic stopped and drivers honked or stepped from their cars in solidarity. The people chanted, “Down with the dictator,” “God is great” and “Mouss-a-vi” as they walked along Revolution Street.

“Tell the world what is happening here,” one 26-year-old engineering student said. “This is our revolution. We will not give up.”

Asked what he wanted, he said, “We want democracy.”

One witness gave this account: “The crowds are too huge to contain. Riot police running up and down Fatemi Street, beating people, barely got out of the way. The crowds just get out of their way and come back.”

Scenes like that were reported all over the city, though the main skirmishes seemed to have occurred near Tehran University and at Enghelab Square. The police shot tear gas into Laleh Park. As night fell, the scene grew more severe. The air filled with acrid smoke and soot, and police officers and Basij militia members ran along the streets.

A man in a business suit pulled out a collapsible baton and beat a person who had a camera until the baton broke. A middle-age woman ran through the crowd, her coat covered with blood stains. Protesters hurled rocks at security officers. Two men held a huge arrangement of yellow and purple flowers on green leaves, in commemoration of those killed last month and in 1999, a witness said.

But still, no matter who stopped to talk, witnesses said, there was a sense of mission and unity that seemed almost validated by the brutal government response. A 55-year-old woman on the streets in support of the marchers said: “This is Iran. We are all together.”

The security forces did not fire on protesters, witnesses said, and it was unclear how many people were injured or arrested.

Until now, the government has relied on three main tactics to try to put the turbulence of the presidential race behind it: detentions; the violent suppression of street protests; and a shifting of blame for the unrest to “meddling” foreign nations, primarily Britain and the United States, but also Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has sanctified the election, and the powerful Guardian Council has certified the results. But the opposition has continued to insist that there were widespread irregularities, rendering the vote and the results invalid. It has refused to concede, which has served to keep the conflict from fading.

Cellphone messaging was disconnected Thursday for a third consecutive day, apparently to prevent communication among protesters. The government also closed universities and declared an official holiday on Tuesday and Wednesday, ostensibly because Tehran has been shrouded in a cloud of heavy dust and pollution.

But neither the announced holiday nor the murky air seemed to thin the crowds.

Many people thrust their hands into the air, making the V-sign for victory. The crowds remained mostly peaceful, a witness said, even as they watched, and sometimes tried to stop, police officers and militia members beating unarmed men and women. Many women were on the street, as they have been throughout the crisis.

A crowd chanted, “Please stop,” and chased two Basij members away.

The streets burned with garbage fires. Tear gas settled all around. And on one street, thousands of people pushed on, proclaiming their solidarity and defiance.

“We don’t want war,” said one 27-year-old man in a black shirt. “We just want freedoms.”

Reporting was contributed by Nazila Fathi from Toronto, and independent observers from Tehran.

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