Friday, February 12, 2010

Iran Braces for Protests on Revolution Day

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Agence France Presse (AFP)/

Iran marks on Thursday the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution with nationwide marches, while security forces are on high alert as opposition groups prepare more anti-regime protests. This year's February 11 celebrations come as the simmering dispute with world powers over Iran's nuclear programme approaches boiling point after the Islamic republic on Tuesday defiantly began work on high-enriched uranium. Celebrations to mark the day the US-backed shah fell in 1979 have been traditionally festive, an opportunity for Iranian leaders to showcase popular support for the establishment. But this year opposition groups -- led by some of the founding fathers of the Islamic republic -- look set to dominate the national day as they continue to reject the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. If the opposition does succeed in mounting protests, it would be highly symbolic given the anniversary's historic significance.Facts:Key dates since Iran revolution The elite Revolutionary Guards and police are doing everything they can to try to prevent protests which, since they first erupted last June, have threatened the very pillars of the Islamic regime and split the senior clergy.

"If anyone wants to disrupt this glorious ceremony, they will be confronted by people and we too are fully prepared," police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam warned on Tuesday. Several people who had been planning to protest were already in custody, he added. An official coordinating the media said that foreign journalists had been banned from covering the traditional street marches marking the anniversary. They were restricted to reporting only on the speech of Ahmadinejad at the historic Azadi (Freedom) Square. Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election last June plunged the Islamic republic into one of its worst ever political crises, with the opposition refusing to take the fight off the streets despite often deadly crackdowns. Most recently, eight people were killed on the Shiite holy day of Ashura on December 27 and hundreds were jailed as the authorities battled protesters they accuse of seeking to topple the regime and siding with Iran's enemies abroad. Iran's all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says he wants Thursday's celebration to be a show of unity and to deliver a stunning "punch" to "arrogant" powers. Khamenei -- the commander-in-chief who has the final say on all key national issues -- has openly sided with Ahmadinejad. He has dismissed allegations of fraud in the election, blamed the West for the post-poll unrest and slammed continuing dissent as "sedition". (Read more...)