Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dueling Marches Pit I.R. Iran Hardliners Vs. Reformers

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The Associated Press

Tens of thousands of protesters — many decked out in the green colors of the reform movement and chanting "Death to the dictator!" — rallied Friday in defiance of Iran's Islamic leadership, clashing with police and confronting state-run anti-Israel rallies. In the first major opposition protests in two months, demonstrators marching shoulder-to-shoulder raised their hands in V-for-victory signs on main boulevards and squares throughout the capital. Lines of police, security forces and plainclothes Basij militiamen kept the two sides apart in most cases. At times they waded into the protesters with baton charges and tear gas volleys. The demonstrators responded by throwing stones and bricks, and setting tires ablaze.

Hard-liners attacked two senior opposition leaders who joined the protests. Former pro-reform President Mohamad Khatami was shoved and jostled, gripping his black turban to keep it from being knocked off as supporters rushed in to protect him, pushing away the attackers and hustling him away. The protests were a significant show of defiance after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei explicitly banned anti-government marches on Quds Day, an annual memorial created by Iran's Islamic Republic to show support for the Palestinians and denounce Israel. Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem.

It was also a show of survival. The opposition has been hit hard by a fierce crackdown in which hundreds have been arrested since disputed June 12 presidential elections sparked Iran's worst political turmoil in decades. Friday's protests could escalate the confrontation — hard-line clerics have demanded the arrest of any opposition leaders who defy Khamenei's order and back protests on Quds Day. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who the opposition contends won re-election by fraud, delivered a nationally televised address, railing against Israel and the West. (Read more...)