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Iran erupts again

Pro-government militiamen attack protesting students at two Tehran universities

Iran's chief prosecutor warns that harsher measures will be taken against protesters. Tear gas was reported at today's demonstrations, after more than 200 were arrested in Monday's protests.

Photobucket
Pro-reform Iranian students and hard-line students scuffle during their demonstrations, at the Tehran University campus in Iran. (STR, Associated Press / December 7, 2009)


By Borzou Daragahi

December 9, 2009

Reporting from Beirut - Pro-government Basiji militiamen stormed the campuses of two Tehran universities Tuesday and attacked hundreds of protesting students, and Iran's chief prosecutor vowed to come down harder than ever on peaceful demonstrators he described as a threat to the nation's security.

Tehran University remained under lockdown a day after thousands of students across Iran defied tough security measures to stage anti-government demonstrations. Smaller protests continued Tuesday at that campus and at Shahid Beheshti University.

At least 169 men and 39 women were arrested in Monday's mass protests of the June reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, police chief Azizollah Rajabzadeh told the Iranian Labor News Agency. He said the Basiji were not involved in any operations Monday.

On Tuesday, plainclothes security personnel on motorcycles surrounded the downtown office of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who dared them to act.

"You are officers," he told them, according to his website, Kalamehnews.com. "If your mission is to kill, beat or threaten me, go ahead."

The security personnel eventually dispersed.

Mousavi, who lost to Ahmadinejad in the disputed presidential election, had encouraged students to take part in Monday's rallies on National Students Day.

Activists around the country have begun printing posters promoting the next round of rallies, planned to coincide with annual Muharram religious ceremonies this month commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad who is among the most revered figures in the Shiite Muslim faith.

Iran's prosecutor-general, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, warned Tuesday of harsh consequences for those who took to the streets this week. Tehran officially regards the protest movement as a tool of its foreign enemies, including the United States.

"We have asked security, law enforcement and judicial organizations not to give a second chance to lawbreakers and those who disrupt the order and security of society," he said at a news conference, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

"We have shown a degree of tolerance so far in order to identify the boundaries and affiliations and to expose the enemy's hidden intentions," he said. "As of today, no leniency will be shown."

Security forces fired tear gas Tuesday at demonstrators near and on the two Tehran campuses. A witness described seeing one young woman stumbling and coughing hard after being exposed to tear gas as she left Tehran University.

Video posted on the Internet showed shoving and shouting matches between students chanting "God is great!" and pro-government militiamen waving Iranian flags.

Students chanted, "Savages! Savages!" as the Basiji militiamen pushed the protesters out of a courtyard.

At Shahid Beheshti University, a student news website reported the beating of students who were chanting slogans.

Also Tuesday, Iranian authorities shut down a prominent reformist newspaper run by Hadi Khamenei, the brother of Iran's supreme leader, "for working outside the regulations."

Western leaders and human rights groups have criticized Iranian authorities for what they describe as Tehran's heavy-handed response to the peaceful protests.

"The violence employed against ordinary demonstrators and the arbitrary arrests are unacceptable," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, Agence France-Presse reported.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast countered that the West should stay out of Iran's affairs.

"We think that they are insistently taking the wrong path, and these activities, which are aimed at diverting us from our constitutional law, will not be effective," he said, according to state television.

daragahi@latimes.com

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times


Resilient Iranians still dream of a new revolution

'Stolen' election fuels dissent amid fears of new flashpoint at Shia festival

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The new generation: Supporters of the Iranian opposition demonstrating against the regime at Tehran University earlier this week. Analysts have compared their dissent to that of their parents against the shah. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Tehran University students have been filing into their classes past giant posters of Ayatollah Khomeini and the stern slogans of the Islamic revolution for the last 30 years. But the angry scenes on the university's sprawling campus this week seemed like a throwback to another age.

"Marg bar diktatur" (Death to dictatorship), they chanted in their thousands, waving green banners and posters behind high canvas screens tied to the railings as basij miltiamen and revolutionary guards prowled the streets outside.

Some held up Iranian flags with the symbol of the Islamic republic cut out of the middle. Others, masked against teargas, burned pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini's heir as the once inviolate supreme leader, made V-signs or taunted basiji with banknotes – a contemptuous dig at the regime's hired thugs. "Liar basiji, where is your student card?" went another slogan – meant to scare off militiamen using fake IDs.

Monday's clashes, replicated as far afield as Tabriz, Mashhad and Shiraz, were the latest escalation in the conflict between the Iranian government and opposition, still fighting over the outcome of June's disputed presidential elections.

Six months on from what the defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi calls a "coup d'etat" in which Khamenei reinstalled the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this marathon confrontation is far from over. "Iran has totally changed since June," said Poorya Farmarzi, a student. "Now you can smell blood when you go out, you can smell teargas, you can smell injustice. This won't end soon."

The next round in the war of attrition will probably be later this month on Ashura, the Shia festival marking the death of Hossein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, at the hands of the Caliph Yazid in 680. Ashura passion plays were the focus of protests before the revolution. Back then the shah was portrayed as the tyrannical Yazid. Now it could be Khamenei's turn. The traditional lament "Ya Hossein" will this time refer to Mousavi – bravely standing for his principles like the revered martyr.

Iran's intrepid citizen journalists are still managing to send out videoclips and posting news on Twitter and blogs, though the official media crackdown makes it hard to work out exactly what is happening. Still, it is clear that fewer protesters were out on Monday than on 4 November, marking the 1979 seizure of the US embassy, and other iconic days in the revolutionary calendar which the authorities are reluctant to cancel. There has been nothing recently to compare to June's enormous rallies.

Yet numbers tell only part of this turbulent story. Taboos that held sway for three decades have been smashed: public attacks on Khamenei – the Vali al-Faqih, or supreme jurist, at the apex of Iran's theocratic system – have become normal. Within hours of state media ridiculing a student leader for fleeing dressed as a woman photoshopped images of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in chadors were circulating. Public discussion of rape – men and women have both been abused in detention – is another grim novelty. Banknotes are now routinely defaced.

The uncertainty shows: Ahmadinejad now draws far smaller crowds than he used to and extra supporters have to be bussed in when he visits the small towns where he was once popular. The majlis, or parliament, is being difficult over plans to lift fuel subsidies. Unemployment, corruption and the budget deficit remain serious weaknesses.

There are persistent rumours of dissent among senior figures – expressed in part over how to respond to international demands to resume negotiations over the country's nuclear programme.

The security forces have become more careful and live fire has become rarer since the international outcry over the fatal shooting of Neda Soltan, the most famous of the 70 or so dead claimed by the opposition since June. The regime admits to 36 fatalities. Thousands have been arrested – including 200 on Monday alone, many of them quickly released.

But the authorities are quick to tar opponents with the brush of treachery. "Mousavi has targeted the late Imam Khomeini's principles and the revolutionary people," the conservative paper Resalat warned. "People will respond to all of his offences soon." In Qom, pro-government clerics were told by the intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, of a plot against Khamenei. "It is like an iceberg," he said. "Its larger part is under water and a small part is visible."

Mousavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi remain free, unlike most of their prominent supporters who have "confessed" their crimes in Stalinist-style show trials. Mousavi's office in Tehran's Farhangestan-e-Honar, House of Arts, is under close surveillance. Instead of risking media interviews he posts statements on his website.

Analysts question whether Mousavi and Karroubi are in control or being led by events driven by younger people, some of whom are advocating more radical action. "The regime is a tree that will fall," said Reza, an engineering student at Amir Kabir university. "But you don't know when."

For one middle-class Tehrani who grew up during the revolution, much of this is about young Iranians asserting themselves, as they did in extraordinary scenes of exuberance and hope before the "stolen" election. "What a lot of people are asking for is what their parents asked for 30 years ago. The difference is that their parents trusted their elders and the keepers of the revolutionary faith to do the right thing. Young people don't have that trust any more."

But if the legitimacy of the Islamic regime has been weakened and its hardcore has shrunk, it remains stronger than the monarchy was in 1979. Government policy is still crisis management, intimidation and control rather than a total clampdown. Ashura could be a test of whether that approach still works.

London-based academic Arshin Adib-Moghaddam said: "Despite the efforts of some commentators to represent what is happening as a wholesale revolt against everything the Islamic republic stands for, a sober analysis reveals that we are witnessing the renegotiation of political power. The protagonists represent different wings within the system. Iran is in a post-revolutionary state, not a pre-revolutionary one."

Karim Sadjapour, another Iran expert, calls it "a fool's errand" to try to predict how this will all play out.

For the moment, Iranians have learned to live with new levels of repression. For some, the answer has been to withdraw into privacy and take refuge from the occasional violence on the streets and the ugly images from the televised show trials – and to hope for better times.

"Now winter is here … I ask myself what more I could wear when the ice and snow come along," one Tehran blogger mused this week. "I guess we shall survive this winter despite the fear in our hearts."


In further news. If you are a follower of mine on twitter then you must known by now, by way of my retweets, something is brewing in Iran. There are rumors all up and down the blogosphere that the Administration is horribly upset by the recent protests and are making movements now to arrest the leaders of the Green Party. Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Karroubi, these are the big leaders of the movement and POWERFUL men. Rafsanjani has an army under him.

So far nothing has happened yet. But keep your eyes peeled. Something is brewing in Iran and everyone is worried.
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