Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Students Beaten in New Iran Protests

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The Independent

Security forces and militiamen clashed with thousands of protesters shouting "death to the dictator" outside Tehran University yesterday, beating them with batons and firing tear gas on a day of nationwide student demonstrations, witnesses said. The rallies were the largest in months, bringing tens of thousands out on more than a dozen campuses around the country and several major squares in Tehran as students – a bedrock of support for the pro-reform movement – energised the opposition. The anti-government movement has been reeling under a fierce crackdown since turmoil erupted over the disputed presidential election in June. Thousands of riot police, as well as forces of the elite Revolutionary Guard and their allied Basij militiamen, flooded the area around Tehran University in the morning, trying to seal off the campus and prevent unrest from spilling out into the streets. Authorities covered the tall fence around the university with banners and signs bearing slogans from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, disguising the events inside. Mobile phone networks around the universities were shut down, and police and Revolutionary Guard surrounded entrances to bar opposition activists, witnesses said. "There's anxiety that there will be violence and shooting. I shout slogans and demonstrate but try not to provoke any clash with the security," Tehran University student Kouhyar Goudarzi told The Associated Press. The fiercest violence was on the streets outside Tehran University.

Thousands of protesters massed in support of the students, some reportedly chanting "death to the dictator". Footage posted on YouTube showed protesters burning pictures of Mr Khamenei – breaking a major taboo against insulting the Supreme Leader, who stands at the pinnacle of Iran's clerical leadership. Riot police fired tear gas and Basij militiamen, some on motorcycles, charged the crowds. The plainclothes Basijis beat protesters on their heads and shoulders as the crowd scattered. They regrouped on street corners, setting tyres and rubbish on fire to ward off the stinging tear gas. Nearby, protesters and Basijis pelted each other with stones, the witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Shots were heard on nearby Enghelab Street, witnesses said. Pro-opposition websites reported that one protester was wounded in the area, but the reports could not be verified. Inside Tehran University, students loyal to the government scuffled with protesters and fights broke out. In one image obtained by The Associated Press, a pro-reform student wearing a green headband had blood streaming down his face. A young woman overcome by tear gas slumped to the ground as two other students tried to help her. While several thousand students marched through the campus, many wearing masks or scarves over their faces, protests erupted at seven other universities in Tehran and on campuses in at least six other cities, according to the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. By Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer, in Tehran.