Iranian Protesters Ask For Release of Opposition Leaders

Host Melissa Block speaks with Thomas Erdbrink, correspondent for the Washington Post, about arrests of Iranian opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi — which spurred protests today in Tehran.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

To Iran now. Today, anti-government protestors clashed with police in the capital, Tehran.

BLOCK: Protestors chanted: Death to the dictator. And they demanded the release of two key opposition leaders who've been detained.

Thomas Erdbrink joins me from Tehran. He's a correspondent there for The Washington Post.

And, Thomas, tell us how big were these protests today? And how did the Iranian government respond?

Mr. THOMAS ERDBRINK (Foreign Service Correspondent, The Washington Post): Well, it's very hard for me to estimate the size of these protests. The few remaining foreign journalists that are still in Iran have been barred from actually going out and being with the protestors. So I have to rely on witnesses, who have told me today that there was a huge amount of people on the streets. They had been occupying the sidewalks along a six-mile-long boulevard, Revolution Boulevard, which is right in the center of Tehran.

And the security forces had trouble containing them, the witnesses told me. And they also described several clashes in which the security forces used tear gas and batons to try and discourage the protestors.

BLOCK: And were there reports of casualties?

Mr. ERDBRINK: I have not heard reports of casualties. Again, it's very difficult for me to oversee what has happened, and on how many locations the protests have taken place. But what I have heard is several arrests have taken place in several parts of the city. And I can fairly say that it runs into the dozens of people that have been arrested today.

BLOCK: Let's talk, Thomas, about these two prominent opposition leaders who've been detained, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. We had talked a couple of weeks ago and at the time they were under house arrest. Now there are conflicting accounts of what's exactly happened to them.

What is the Iranian opposition saying, first?

Mr. ERDBRINK: The opposition is basically saying that both men and their wives have been kidnapped by the Iranian government; that they've been taken to an unknown location; and some opposition websites have even reported that they've been taken to a prison in the center of Tehran.

Now, yesterday, Iran's national prosecutor, Mir Mohseni Ejei, came out and said these are all lies. This is not true. They are still under house arrest. But the opposition has sent people to the house of Mehdi Karroubi, and the neighbors over there have been saying that no one has actually - has been inside the house, and no lights have been on for the past three days.

So both men, both Mousavi and Karroubi and their wives have, it seems, gone missing.

BLOCK: Has the opposition called for ongoing protests in Tehran?

Mr. ERDBRINK: There are conflicting reports because one of the consequences of these two men and their wives being behind bars, or at least not in the position to speak to their followers, means that other people are now calling for protests. There is, for instance, an anonymous group that calls itself the Council for the Green Path of Hope. Nobody knows who these people are but they have access to the website of Mousavi and Karroubi. Now, they have been calling for today's protests. They are also calling for a protest somewhere next week.

But there's other voices out there on the Internet that are saying, no, we should march now every day, the tide is turning in our favor, the security forces are becoming more and more afraid of us.

So it is unclear who is leading this. And I think this also makes it problematic for the demonstrators because when do you go out and when do you stay at home?

BLOCK: I've been talking with Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran. He's a correspondent there for The Washington Post. Thomas, thanks very much.

Mr. ERDBRINK: Thank you.

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