Anti-Government Clashes In Iran Deadliest Since June

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A nephew of an Iranian opposition leader is said to be among eight people killed Sunday in a confrontation between protesters and Iranian security forces in Tehran. Opposition Web sites describe one of the most violent confrontations in months. Because of government restrictions on media coverage, some of the accounts can't be confirmed. Borzou Daragahi, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, talks to Steve Inskeep about the outbreak of violence in Iran.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

We're learning more today about the way that Iranian protesters confronted security forces. It was one of their bloodiest encounters in months. At least eight people have been reported killed. These street battles took place on one of the most important days for Shiite Muslims, who form a majority in Iran.

The government has imposed tight restrictions on media coverage, but Borzou Daragahi of The Los Angeles Times, he is learning what he can. He was in Iran recently, and joins us now from his basin Beirut. Welcome back to the program, Borzou.

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

INSKEEP: How did these clashes develop?

DARAGAHI: Well, this was really a weekend of clashes that coincided with not only the culmination of this year's Ashura ceremonies commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, but also the seventh day of mourning following the death of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri. And what we saw was a level of anger and daring and boldness on the part of the protestors that we haven't seen in a while, just really extraordinary scenes and witness descriptions, people confronting the cops, sometimes violently, taking their equipment, trashing their motorcycles and police vehicles. In at least one case, burning down what appeared to be a police substation. We also had a report that one of the Basijy headquarters - the Basijy are the pro-government militia - was also burned down.

INSKEEP: What is the symbolic significance of protesting on this Shiite Muslim holy day that you mentioned?

DARAGAHI: Well, in the seventh century, the Imam Hussein, who was the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, was slain in a battle. And so there's this very interesting parallel between the plight of Imam Hussein, this seventh-century figure, and the current situation now where you have many Iranians believing that their rightful president, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was unjustly usurped from power by a tyrannical force. And so this metaphorical parallel is very powerful to Iranians. And many people in the protests yesterday were using religious slogans, and it was kind of chilling to hear these slogans against the regime, which incorporated both the story of Imam Hussein and Iran's current politics.

INSKEEP: You know, when you talk about this, I'm reminded of one of the challenges for Iran's government. You do have a branch of Islam that is steeped in martyrdom, right back to its first moments. And I suppose that makes it challenging for the government to crack down. If you kill a protestor, say, that person is made into a martyr automatically.

DARAGAHI: Indeed, this is one of the drawbacks of yesterday's violence, as far as the government is concerned. Now, the government is facing this potential cycle of unrest associated with the third, seventh and 40th days following the deaths of the people who were in the protests, including the nephew of opposition figurehead Mir Hossein Mousavi. His name is Ali Mousavi, or Ali Habibi Mousavi. And now there are calls to turn his religiously significant mourning days into more protests. It was this type of rolling protests linked to mourning ceremonies that ultimately dislodged Iranian former monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the late '70s.

INSKEEP: Borzou, because the government is cracking down somewhat on information, I'd like to ask how it is that we know what it is we're describing here?

DARAGAHI: I mean, the protestors themselves are so brave, they get on the phone or get on Skype or get on Facebook, and immediately after they see something or do something, they send messages out to the rest of the world. In addition, they're videotaping themselves. This is kind of like the YouTube generation protest movement, because as they confront the cops or burn down a police vehicle, they're taping it and then immediately going to an Internet cafe or to their own homes and uploading it.

INSKEEP: Borzou Daragahi of The Los Angeles Times, thanks very much.

DARAGAHI: It's been a pleasure.

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