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Rally, protests mark Iran revolution
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Iranians massed Thursday in central Tehran to mark the anniversary of the revolution that created the country’s Islamic republic, while a heavy security force fanned out across the city and moved quickly to snuff out opposition counterprotests.
Police clashed with protesters in several sites around Tehran, firing tear gas to disperse them and paintballs to mark them for arrest. Gangs of hard-liners also attacked senior opposition figures as they tried to attend the rallies — including the wife of the head of the reform movement.
RELATED STORY: Iran claims new success in uranium enrichment
Plainclothes Basiji militiamen beat 65-year-old Zahra Rahnavard with clubs on her head and back until her supporters formed a human ring around her and whisked her away, according to the Web site of her husband, Mir Hossein Mousavi.
The celebrations marking the revolution’s 31st anniversary were an opportunity for Iran’s clerical regime to tout its power in the face of the opposition movement, which has managed to keep up periodic street protests since the disputed June presidential elections despite a fierce crackdown.
The opposition turnout was dwarfed by the huge crowd at the state-run celebrations. Many were bused in to central Azadi, or Freedom, Square to hear an address by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who proclaimed a new success in Iran’s uranium enrichment program and dismissed new U.S. sanctions.
And the massive security clampdown appeared to succeed in preventing protesters from converging into a cohesive demonstrations. Large numbers of riot police, members of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij militiamen, some on motorcycles, deployed in back streets near key squares and major avenues in the capital to move against protesters.
Opposition Web sites spoke of groups of protesters in the hundreds, compared to much larger crowds in past demonstrations
One protester told The Associated Press she had tried to join the demonstrations but soon left in disappointment. “There were 300 of us, maximum 500. Against 10,000 people,” she told an AP reporter outside Iran. She said there were few clashes.
“It means they won and we lost. They defeated us. They were able to gather so many people,” she said. “But this doesn’t mean we have been defeated for good. It’s a defeat for now, today. We need time to regroup.”
Another protester insisted the opposition had come out in significant numbers, but “the problem was that we were not able to gather in one place because they (security forces) were very violent.”
Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by authorities, who have jailed protesters for talking to foreign media.
Authorities banned foreign media in Iran from covering the pro-reform protests, while allowing them to cover the official anniversary ceremonies, including Ahmadinejad’s speech, but there is a ban on covering opposition protests. Tehran residents also reported Internet speeds dropping dramatically and e-mail services such as Gmail being blocked in a common government tactic to foil opposition attempts to organize.
Thousands upon thousands marched along the city’s broad avenues toward Azadi Square to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to footage on state TV. There, the massive crowds waved Iranian flags and carried pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic state, and his successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
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