Middle East

Protesters Clash With Iranian Security Forces

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Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy takeover in Iran. The day usually is marked in Tehran by anti-U.S. rallies. But this year, protestors unhappy with the Iranian government have taken to the streets. Borzou Daragahi, of the Los Angeles Times tells Steve Inskeep the demonstrations are widespread despite Iran's warning that it would crack down on protesters.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Thirty years after Iranians seized it, the U.S. embassy still stands in Tehran. It's now a training school for Iranian security forces. A museum to Iranian martyrs stands across the street. Every year on this day, November 4th, Iran marks the anniversary of the takeover with anti-American rallies. But on this 30th anniversary, demonstrators aimed frustration at another target: their own government. We're going to talk about this with Borzou Daragahi, who covers Iran for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome back to the program.

Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Journalist, Los Angeles Times): It's my pleasure.

INSKEEP: And what are you able to hear from outside Iran about what's happening in Tehran today?

Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, what we're gathering based on eyewitness accounts and video already posted to YouTube is that the anti-government protesters have taken to the streets. They are clashing with the security forces in the center of Tehran. There has been numerous reports of teargas being fired at the protestors, along with protestors out on the streets chanting death to the dictator and calling Russia the den of espionage.

This is a play on the official description of the former U.S. embassy compound as a den of espionage. Security forces could be seen beating the protestors, and one witness said he saw even the soldiers and security forces collapsing from the effects of teargas. According to several reformist news Web sites, the students poured into the streets in defiance of security forces stationed at campus entrances.

INSKEEP: Now, this is the latest round of protests ever since the disputed presidential election in June, but one of the slogans you repeated there reminds us that the protestors have raised the stakes. When they say death to the dictator, they're presumably referring to Iran's supreme leader and seemed to all but be calling for the collapse of Iran's revolutionary government.

Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, I think that's a good question. What do they mean by that? It's a good a catch-all in that it encompasses both those folks who are simply upset at the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and consider him a dictator, as well as those more radical elements within the opposition who want to see the Islamic Republic abolished. This is a huge source of tension within the opposition movement that has not been addressed, this difference between those who are reformists and those who are more radical. And for now, they're leaving it to the side under slogans that are rather general.

INSKEEP: Let's come back to these protests for just one moment that you've been monitoring from outside Iran. Of course, it's not safe for security reasons for American journalists or Western journalists to go there at the moment. But you've spent a lot of time in Iran. You've seen many protests in Iran. Do you have any sense from the information that reaches you whether this is a widespread protest today?

Mr. DARAGAHI: According to the information that we're getting, right now, it's thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. I would consider that pretty widespread, given the dire security warnings that have been issued towards the demonstrators, given the threat of bodily harm that these folks are facing. This is - this protest is definitely not as big as those first protests that took place immediately after the elections where up to three million people took to the streets in one day, but it is significant. It does show that the protest movement is still alive. It shows that there are people out there who are still very brave.

INSKEEP: Borzou Daragahi. He covers Iran for the Los Angeles Times. He's been following this story from Beirut, Lebanon. Thanks very much.

Mr. DARAGAHI: My pleasure.

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