Competing Protests Produce Scuffles In Iran
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Today, for the first time in two months, thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Teheran. It was an illustration that the Iranian opposition has not been crushed. Thousands of pro-government demonstrators were also in the streets, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at a rally once again calling the holocaust a lie.
NPR's Mike Shuster has been monitoring events in Iran and he has this story of today's protests.
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MIKE SHUSTER: Today is the battle of the demonstrations in Teheran. Thousands of protesters used the opportunity of Quds Day, which translates as Jerusalem Day, to fill the streets once again in a show of defiance of the government and the crackdown on the opposition that has continued since June's disputed presidential election. Down with the dictator was the familiar slogan and crowds chanted Mir-Hossein Mousavi's name. Mousavi was the leading reformist presidential candidate, who the opposition believes, was the true winner of the presidential election.
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SHUSTER: And there were also thousands of pro-government demonstrators in the streets in rallies organized by the government as a show of support for Palestinians and for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad appeared and launched into a vitriolic tirade against Israel, extreme by even his standards.
President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Foreign language spoken)
SHUSTER: All of a sudden after World War II, they claimed that the Holocaust occurred, Ahmadinejad told the crowd of thousands. They used lies and propaganda to create the illusion that the Jews were innocent and needed a state. The existence of Israel jeopardizes the whole region Ahmadinejad said. It is the symbol of lies and deception. If the Holocaust was a real event why won't they allow research to clear up the facts, he said.
Although Ahmadinejad declared Jerusalem Day as a day of unity for Iranians, there was no unity on display on the streets of the Iranian capital. Some protesters chanted, not Gaza, not Lebanon, our life is for Iran, which was seen as a rejection of the pro-Palestine, anti-Israel focus of Jerusalem Day. The opposition marched from several points in downtown Teheran. In some cases the pro and anti-government rallies were only blocks apart.
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SHUSTER: In at least two instances, pro-government marchers plowed into the protesters. Former president Mohammed Hakim, a leading reformist, was jostled according to an opposition Web site, but those around him were able to protect him. Mousavi also appeared in one of the opposition marches and pro-government demonstrators tried to reach him as well without success. Riot police used their clubs and tear gas to disperse the protesters, but in some cases protesters fought back by throwing stones and bricks. One protester identified only as Akbar described the scene to the BBC.
AKBAR: There was some issues. They burned down a police outpost on their way. The militia, the plainclothesmen were out in force and it was very, very difficult to maneuver. I think the situation on the ground is intolerable what we're seeing at the moment, the ban on civilities, the massive imprisonment of political activists, youngsters and journalists, protesters, this is all adding up to the discontent inside the country.
SHUSTER: The protests occurred despite warnings from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and commanders of the Revolutionary Guard that the crackdown would intensify.
AKBAR: I think if there is more opposition then there is going to be more violence on the horizon unless there is a comprehensive settlement.
SHUSTER: Similar Jerusalem Day rallies were held around the country and additional protest marches were reported in Isfahan and Shiraz.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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