Iran General NewsOpposition proves it’s still alive and kicking with day...

Opposition proves it’s still alive and kicking with day of mass protest in Iran

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ImageThe Times: Six months after Iran’s disputed presidential election the bloodied and battered opposition movement refuses to give up. On campuses across the country yesterday tens of thousands of students led the latest round of demonstrations. The Times

Martin Fletcher

ImageSix months after Iran’s disputed presidential election the bloodied and battered opposition movement refuses to give up. On campuses across the country yesterday tens of thousands of students led the latest round of demonstrations against a Government that they regard as illegitimate, while riot police fought running battles with demonstrators on the streets of Tehran.

The occasion was National Students’ Day — a state-sponsored commemoration of three student demonstrators killed by the Shah’s security forces in 1953. Yesterday it was hijacked by the so-called Green Movement and transformed into a mass protest against the present regime.

The authorities did their best to suppress news of the protests. They sealed off universities, blocked internet and mobile phone communications, censored the domestic media and barred foreign journalists from reporting on the streets. They even covered the perimeter fences of some campuses to hide what was happening inside.

Reports, photographs and grainy mobile phone footage were soon reaching Western newsrooms, however. They showed students at at least eight universities in Tehran, and others in cities such as Mashhad, Shiraz, Isfahan and Kermanshah, staging sit-ins, marches and even a mock funeral procession.

They waved Iranian flags shorn of the Islamic Republic’s emblem, burnt posters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, and chanted “Khamenei is a murderer; his rule is illegitimate” — unthinkable before the Ayatollah backed President Ahmadinejad’s dubious election victory in June.

They demanded the release of detained students and taunted members of the Basij volunteer militia who are supposed to monitor their activities. They waved banknotes at them and chanted: “Mercenary agents, get lost!”

Elsewhere in Tehran security forces used teargas, plastic bullets and baton charges to disperse demonstrators and prevent them from reaching the University of Tehran, the epicentre of the unrest. They fired warnings shots in the air, beat anyone caught filming with mobile phones and made numerous arrests. The film clips showed demonstrators clad in facemasks throwing stones, setting fire to rubbish skips and shouting: “Death to the dictator,” and “Don’t be scared, we’re all together.” Some were bloody from beatings.

The protests showed that the Green Movement remains robust, despite the regime’s brutal crackdown over the past six months. The movement is planning even bigger demonstrations to mark the Shia Muslim festival of Ashura at the end of the month.

The authorities were “fighting with shadows in the street”, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mr Ahmadinejad’s main opponent in the election, said. “Let’s say you suppress the students and silence them [today]. What will you do with the social realities? What will you do on the following days?”

Mehdi Karroubi, another defeated candidate, who has become the most prominent leader of the opposition, said: “Repression is not at all the solution, neither today nor tomorrow.”

He told the French newspaper Le Monde: “The solution to arrive at reconciliation is tolerance and acceptance of criticism. We need to work to restore the trust between the authorities and the people.”

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