- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TEHRAN | In an outpouring of people power not seen here since the 1979 Iranian revolution, tens of thousands of Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran on Monday to protest allegations that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won re-election through massive fraud.

Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who many here think was the real victor of Friday’s elections, emerged from seclusion for the first time since the vote to address the crowd, which was estimated to number as many as 1.5 million people.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Muslim cleric who initially confirmed an Ahmadinejad victory, abruptly changed direction and promised a probe into allegations of ballot-rigging, although it was not clear whether the action was merely a ploy to curb unrest.

If that was his intention, he failed.

Protesters streamed into central Tehran’s Revolution Square — so named for the overthrow of the monarchy 30 years ago — despite warnings on state television that the rally was illegal and those attending would be viewed as engaging in “incitement” by police who had a right to shoot.

Read Barbara Slavin’s analysis of the unfolding events in Iran: Iran regime likely shaken for good

An Associated Press photographer reported one fatality; otherwise, the demonstration — after two days of rioting — was remarkably peaceful.

“For those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them the world is watching and inspired by their participation regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was,” President Obama said Monday during an Oval Office meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr. Obama, in his most detailed reaction yet to the events in Iran, added that many Iranian voters “now feel betrayed” and “the ability of people to peacefully dissent” is a “universal value that needs to be respected,” so the world is “rightfully troubled.”

The sheer numbers of exuberant demonstrators put police on the defensive. People of every age and social class spread across a five-mile area from Revolution Square to Freedom Square, where a towering concrete monument was erected by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to celebrate 2,500 years of Persian kings just a few years before he was deposed.

Young men with gelled-back hair and knockoff sunglasses and cell phones walked alongside septuagenarian retirees wearing the Iranian proletariat’s trademark cloth trousers and baggy shirts.

Girls sporting green revolutionary chic head scarves and bandannas marched alongside matrons swathed in all-encompassing chadors from which just a single unpowdered nose peeked.

“We want a national referendum, freedom of expression and freedom,” said Zahra Hosseini, a 62-year-old homemaker wrapped in a chador who trudged along the route by herself. “There’s no going back.”

Observers said that the demonstration was the largest spontaneous public event in the history of the Islamic republic. Every Feb. 11, the anniversary of the fall of the Shah’s government, thousands of people crowd Freedom Square, but many are bused in by the regime, provided with government-made placards and led by government officials in shouting anti-U.S. and anti-Israel slogans.

On Monday, nothing was staged.

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