Mass European Protests Back Iranian Reformers
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Europeans are reacting with outrage over events in Iran. European leaders have called for a vote recount and demonstrators in major capitals have taken to the streets in solidarity with protestors in Iran.
Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: On the outskirts of Paris on Saturday, tens of thousands of Iranian exiles gathered to call for an end to their country's religious regime. While the call for change was imbued with urgency this week, the rally was nothing new. France is the headquarters for a coalition of five Iranian opposition parties which regularly hold gatherings like this one at a fair ground north of the French capital. What is different this time is the amount of interest and support European citizens are showing for the plight of the Iranian reformers.
Unidentified Man: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: In downtown Paris on Sunday, Parisians joined Iranians to hold a minute of silence for those killed in weekend protests in Tehran. Then they began chanting assassins to the Iranian leadership.
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BEARDSLEY: French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been harshly critical of the Iranian regime's violence against the protestors.
President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through translator) The situation in Iran is extremely worrying and the reaction by those in power is totally disproportionate. If those in power won the election hands down, why are they cracking down which such violence and with so many casualties?
BEARDSLEY: Iran's leaders have singled out Britain along with the United States as one of the major foreign fomenters of the protest. There are of course historical reasons for this, but the biggest thorn in the government's side is said to be, along with Twitter, the BBC's Farsi language service. The BBC is now using two extra satellites to broadcast into Iran after its signals were jammed.
The British government is taking the situation seriously. It has begun evacuating all non-essential personnel from its embassy in Tehran. British Foreign Minister David Miliband rejected the idea that the protests in Iran were motivated by foreign countries and he said it was up to the Iranian people to choose their government.
Mr. DAVID MILIBAND (British Foreign Minister): Iran is a wonderfully educated society, and people there want to have their voice heard, and it cannot be met with a baton or brutality.
BEARDSLEY: Support for the Iranian demonstrators is bubbling up all over Europe. Italy says it is willing to open its embassy in Tehran to wounded protestors. And a popular Swedish file-sharing site has launched an Internet network that will allow users to dodge the regime's censorship rules by surfing anonymously. The company even temporarily changed its logo from the Pirate Bay to the Persian Bay.
Perhaps the strongest statement yet against the suspected election fraud has come from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While Merkel urged the Iranian government to refrain from using force against protestors, she went farther by calling for a vote recount.
Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Through translator) For confidence in Iran to grow, it must be possible that all the votes are completely recounted. This process has to be transparent so the results are justifiable to the public.
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BEARDSLEY: Over the weekend there were signs of solidarity with Iranian protestors in Hamburg and Berlin, as German families came out to march with Iranian exiles and to listen to traditional Persian music.
Wayne White is a fellow with the Middle East Institute and a former director of Middle East intelligence at the State Department. He says while the popular demonstrations are admirable, they won't change a thing on the ground in Iran.
Mr. WAYNE WHITE (Middle East Institute): However, they are going to have, I believe, an impact on the behavior of the government's concern toward Iran, and that is especially important when we're talking about the European group that has been involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.
BEARDSLEY: White says as Iranian leaders discredit themselves in front of the eyes of the world, European nuclear negotiators are likely to be much more wary. He says that if they stole the election, they surely wouldn't hesitate to lie about the bomb.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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