Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mass Demonstrations in Iran Question Government and its Clerical leadership



The fierce struggle for real democracy in Iran continues. Meanwhile the arrogant, reactionary Iranian government and their dogmatic religious sponsors will continue to try to hold back the tides of History but even they will ultimately fail...Stay tuned...


Top Cleric Calls for Inquiry as Protesters Defy Ban in Iran
Published: June 15, 2009
New York Times

TEHRAN — Hundreds of thousands of people marched in silence through central Tehran on Monday to protest Iran’s disputed presidential election in an extraordinary show of defiance that appeared to be the largest antigovernment demonstration here since the 1979 revolution.

The march was largely peaceful, but toward the end of the day, gunfire broke out in at least one clash between protesters and militia members, and one protester was reported killed. News photographs showed several people who appeared seriously injured.

The march began hours after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for a inquiry into opposition claims that the election was rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The ayatollah’s call — announced every 15 minutes on Iranian state radio throughout the day — was the first sign that Iran’s top leadership might be rethinking its position on the election.

Mr. Khamenei announced Saturday that the election results showing a landslide victory for Mr. Ahmadinejad were fair, but on Sunday he met with Mir Hussein Moussavi, the former prime minister and moderate who was the main opposition candidate, to listen to his concerns.

The silent march was a deliberate and striking contrast with the chaos of the past few days, when riot police sprayed tear gas and wielded clubs to disperse scattered bands of angry and frightened young people. In Isfahan, south of the capital, more violence broke out on Monday, with police attacking a crowd of several thousand opposition protesters with sticks and tear gas, and rioters setting fires in parts of the city.

The broad river of people in Tehran — young and old, dressed in traditional Islamic gowns and the latest Western fashions — marched slowly from Revolution Square to Freedom Square for more than three hours, many of them wearing the signature bright green ribbons of Mr. Moussavi’s campaign, and holding up their hands in victory signs. When the occasional shout or chant went up, the crowd quickly hushed them, and some held up signs bearing the word “silence.”

“These people are not seeking a revolution,” said Ali Reza, a young actor in a brown T-shirt who stood for a moment watching on the rally’s sidelines. “We don’t want this regime to fall. We want our votes to be counted, because we want reforms, we want kindness, we want friendship with the world.”

Mr. Moussavi, who had called for the rally Sunday but never received official permission for it, joined the crowd, as did Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former president. But the crowd was so vast, and communications had been so sporadic — the authorities have cut off phone and text-messaging services repeatedly in recent days — that many marchers seemed unaware they were there.

“We don’t really have a leader,” said Mahdiye, a 20-year-old student. “Moussavi wants to do something, but they won’t let him. It is dangerous for him, and we don’t want to lose him. We don’t know how far this will go.”

The protesters said they would continue, with another major rally planned for Tuesday. But it was too soon to tell whether Mr. Khamenei’s decision to launch a probe, or the government’s decision to let the silent rally proceed, would change the election results. Many in the crowd said they believed the government was simply buying time, and hoping the protests would dissipate, as smaller protest movements have in 1999 and 2003.

“Anything is possible,” said Hamid, a 50-year-old financial adviser who, like many protesters, declined to give his last name because he feared repercussions. “If the people insist on this movement, if it continues here and in other parts of Iran, the pressure will build — and maybe Ahmedinejad will be forced to resign.”

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the unrest in Iran and is concerned about allegations of ballot fraud. But he stopped short of condemning the Iran security forces for cracking down on demonstrators and said Washington does not know whether the allegations of fraud are, in fact, true.

In Moscow, meanwhile, an official at the Iranian Embassy said that Mr. Ahmadinejad had delayed a visit to Russia that was to have started Monday. The meeting, in Yekaterinburg, is of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that includes Russia, China and four Central Asian countries. He now plans to travel on Tuesday, the official said.

As concern about the vote spread among Western governments, the European Union’s 27 member states planned to issue a joint call on Iran to clarify the election outcome, Reuters reported. The French government summoned the Iranian ambassador to register concern about the fairness of the vote, and Germany planned to follow suit.

The Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, told reporters in Luxembourg, “There is a need to clarify the situation and to express our concern that a sector of the population are having difficulties in expressing its opinion.” In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called for a “transparent examination” of reports of irregularities.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he had been “closely following the situation” and welcomed the announcement that there would be some manner of investigation. “The genuine will of the Iranian people should be fully respected,” he said.

Earlier, Reuters said stick-wielding supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad clashed with marching backers of Mr. Moussavi. Other reports said some of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s followers paraded outside the British and French Embassies in Tehran following remarks by political leaders in London and Paris casting doubt on the Iranian leadership’s conduct.

There were reports of considerable violence overnight on Sunday, as opposition Web sites reported that security forces raided a dormitory at Tehran University and 15 people were injured. Between 150 and 200 students were arrested, by these accounts, but there was no immediate confirmation of the incident from the authorities. There were also reports of official action against students in the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.

Iran’s Interior Ministry announced on Saturday that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won about 63 percent of the vote, after a hard-fought election campaign and the rise of a broad reform-oriented opposition that clearly had rattled Iran’s ruling elite. Opposition leaders have catalogued a list of what they call election violations and irregularities in the vote, which most observers had expected to go to a second-round runoff.

Opposition members from all the major factions were arrested late Saturday and Sunday and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami, opposition Web sites reported. Some were released after several hours.

In a press conference on Sunday, Mr. Ahmadinejad had dismissed the protesters as soccer hooligans who had lost a match, in a comment that appears to have stoked their determination.

“People feel really insulted, and nothing is worse than that,” said Azi, a 48-year-old woman in an elegant yellow headscarf who participated in the massive Monday rally. “We won’t let the regime buy time, we will hold another march tomorrow.”

At nightfall, large numbers of Tehranis took to their roofs for a second night, chanting “God is great!” and “Death to the dictator!” in neighborhoods across the city. The A.P., quoting residents, also reported that shooting was also heard in three districts of wealthy northern Tehran.

Reporting was contributed by Clifford J. Levy from Moscow, Alan Cowell from Paris, Sharon Otterman from New York, Victor Homola from Berlin, and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations.