Iran General NewsBritish Ambassador Simon Gass to boycott Iran Revolution celebrations

British Ambassador Simon Gass to boycott Iran Revolution celebrations

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ImageThe Times: Britain’s Ambassador in Tehran and four European counterparts are to boycott today’s celebrations of the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, which the opposition hopes to turn into another massive demonstration against the regime. The Times

Martin Fletcher

ImageBritain’s Ambassador in Tehran and four European counterparts are to boycott today’s celebrations of the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, which the opposition hopes to turn into another massive demonstration against the regime.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that Simon Gass would not attend the official events in Azadi Square because of a “range of problems” between Britain and the Iran. The regime refused to accept the deputy head of mission instead, and threatened to prevent the ambassador from holding any future meetings with officials or ministers.

Mr Gass attracted criticism for attending President Ahmadinejad’s inauguration after his hotly disputed re-election last summer. Since then relations have deteriorated, with Iran repeatedly accusing Britain of fomenting unrest and its Foreign Minister declaring recently that Britain deserved a “slap in the mouth”.

The French, German, Italian and Dutch ambassadors are also understood to be boycotting the ceremony. Regime supporters staged ugly demonstrations outside their embassies on Monday to protest at Europe’s attitude towards Iran’s nuclear programme.

The anniversary of the 1979 revolution is usually marked by patriotic fervour, triumphant rallies and speeches proclaiming the Islamic Republic’s extraordinary achievements. This year it is more likely to feature some of the biggest and bloodiest clashes yet between the regime and an increasingly belligerent Opposition.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami, leaders of the so-called Green Movement, have urged their supporters to turn out in huge numbers to reassert the ideals of a revolution that they say have been subverted by the regime. “Compatriots, your silence is a betrayal of Iran,” says one of the many opposition e-mails, calling for a massive show of strength.

The regime is using offers of free transport, food and money to fill Azadi Square with tens of thousands of its own supporters. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, has called for a show of national unity that will “punch” Iran’s Western enemies and “leave them stunned”.

Observers fear that away from the cameras the regime will use unbridled force to try and crush the Opposition once and for all. “The possibility of a bloodbath is there. They want to put an end to this,” an Iranian academic, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Shocked by the last big demonstrations on December 27, the Shia holy festival of Ashura, the regime has been working for weeks to prevent a repeat today. It has arrested more than 1,000 suspected opposition sympathisers, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Two dissidents have been executed and ten others sentenced to death in what David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, called a “blatant attempt to cow the opposition movement”. Using e-mails or text messages to organise protests has been made a criminal offence.

Opposition websites claim that the regime is flooding Tehran with Revolutionary Guards and Basiji militiamen. It has reportedly lined the parade routes with loudspeakers to drown out opposition chants. It is said to have removed posters of Ayatollah Khamenei and Mr Ahmadinejad to stop them being defaced, and replaced plastic rubbish skips with metal ones to prevent them being torched.

The regime has seriously disrupted the internet and text-messaging systems and jammed the BBC and other Persian-language television channels beamed in from abroad. It has warned that anti-government protesters would be dealt with mercilessly.

Foreign and domestic journalists will be confined to Azadi Square, where Mr Ahmadinejad will address the faithful.

“The goal of the Iranian Government is to direct journalists towards the pro-government demonstrations,” a group of exiled Iranian journalists warned. “The only people that will come in view of your cameras will be the Basijis, who will present a caricature of the Iranian nation. You will hear the protesting voice of the Iranian people clearer than ever if you look beyond the fences, cordons and barriers.”

It is what happens beyond those barriers, not just in Tehran but in cities across Iran, that matters. Nobody knows whether the Opposition will be intimidated by the regime’s threats, or turn out in massive numbers. Nobody knows whether the security forces, who shot and killed at least eight demonstrators during the Ashura protests, will resort to exactly the sort of violence and repression that the Shah’s forces used 31 years ago.

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