Iran Stifles Opposition Amid Revolution Day Rallies

Iranians attend a Tehran rally to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. i i

hide captionHundreds of thousands of Iranians attend a pro-government rally in Tehran's Freedom Square on Thursday to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Iranians attend a Tehran rally to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians attend a pro-government rally in Tehran's Freedom Square on Thursday to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Opposition protesters clashed with Iranian police Thursday as hundreds of thousands of pro-government demonstrators rallied in Tehran to observe the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Meanwhile, Iran's leaders claimed new advances in enriching uranium, as U.S. lawmakers announced new plans for sanctions aimed at punishing Iran for its nuclear ambitions.

NPR's Mike Shuster, who has been monitoring the situation from Dubai, reports that the Iranian government has made it difficult to get information about opposition protests by interfering with Internet and cell phone service in Iran.

Shuster says that Iranian state television has shown tens of thousands of people at the main pro-government rally, but he notes that it appeared to be "a very sedate crowd. There's not been a lot of chanting and hollering."

The rally's main event was a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who asserted that Iran has succeeded in enriching uranium to 20 percent and has the ability to achieve a purity of more than 80 percent. That's nearing the level that experts say is pure enough to form the explosive core of a nuclear bomb, but Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran has no intention of building atomic weapons.

Wire service reports quote opposition Web sites as saying that police and security forces broke up opposition rallies at other locations in Tehran and other Iranian cities.

One opposition site, Green Voice, said security forces fired bullets and tear gas at protesters at a rally attended by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife. Another site, Jaras, said security forces attacked other opposition leaders, including Mehdi Karroubi and former President Mohammad Khatami, as they tried to attend protest rallies.

Dozens of hard-liners with batons and pepper spray attacked the convoy of Karroubi as he tried to join the protests, his son Hossein Karroubi told The Associated Press. The attackers — believed to be members of the Basij civilian militia — damaged several cars and smashed windows on Karroubi's car, though he escaped unharmed, he said.

Security forces also briefly detained the granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the architect of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and her husband, who are both senior pro-reform politicians, according to the couple's son, Ali.

The opposition claims that Ahmadinejad's victory in the June 12 election was fraudulent and that the true winner was pro-reform leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Hundreds of thousands marched in the streets against the government in the weeks after the vote, prompting a massive wave of arrests.

Tensions have mounted further since the last large-scale marches, in late December, which brought the most violent battles with security forces in months. At least eight people were killed in clashes between protesters and police, and security forces have intensified arrests in the weeks since.

The anniversary comes as Western leaders are pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran for continuing a nuclear program that the U.S. and other nations say is aimed at producing a bomb.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it has frozen U.S.-held assets of a general in Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard and four subsidiaries of a construction company that he operates.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) announced Thursday that they would introduce a plan for additional sanctions against Tehran. Their bill would require the president to draw up a list of human-rights abusers in Iran — individuals who would then be targeted with financial sanctions and a ban on visas to the U.S.

In his speech at the government-organized rally in Tehran, Ahmadinejad told supporters that Iran has produced its first batch of uranium enriched to a purity near 20 percent. Iran says that the material is to be used in a Tehran research reactor that produces radioactive isotopes for cancer treatments and other medical purposes.

But NPR's Shuster points out that Iran just announced its intention to carry out the enrichment to 20 percent and that it's by no means clear Iranian scientists have even begun the process, despite Ahmadinejad's claims.

Material from The Associated Press supplemented this report

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