Rally Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Storming of the U.S. Embassy Turned Violent.
Police clashed with supporters of Iran's opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in Tehran on Wednesday when a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the storming of the U.S. embassy turned violent. Police opened fire on protesters at Haft-e Tir square, but there was no independent confirmation of the report.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards and their allied Basij militia had warned the opposition not to try to hijack an annual anti-U.S. rally to revive protests against the clerical establishment after June's disputed presidential election.
"Police clashed with hundreds of protesters. They were chanting: 'Death to dictators'. Police used batons to disperse them," a witness said. People, usually supporters of the government, traditionally chant, "Death to America" at the annual state-organized rally; but this time the opposion tried to changed the chant to "Death to no one" and sometimes to "Death to Dictator" which refers to Ahmadinejad, the president and Khamanei, the supreme leader.
By early evening the crowds had dispersed, but police and Basij maintained patrols on the streets.
The crackdown showed no compromise from the leadership, underlined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's recent comment that it was a crime to question the June 12 vote which secured the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Police fired teargas at the crowd and arrested at least five protesters", one witness said. Mobile phone networks were shut down to try to prevent protesters from organizing while Basij militia on motorbikes drove at crowds and used batons.
"There are hundreds, chanting 'God is greatest'. Police and Basij militia are outnumbering the protesters," one witness said.
The turmoil after the June vote was the worst in Iran since protests which led to the ouster of the U.S.-backed Shah three decades ago. Authorities denied vote-rigging and portrayed the unrest as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state.
Iran has been rocked by the street protests which have also exposed serious rifts over reform in the clerical leadership, already under international pressure over its nuclear program.
Washington fears Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb and has threatened more sanctions through the United Nations. Tehran says its nuclear program aims to generate electricity.
In September, opposition protesters clashed with government backers and police at annual government pro-Palestinian rallies.
Thousands of people gathered in front of the former U.S. embassy for the latest state-organized rally.
At the same time, a new theme emerged, with many protesters declaring their impatience with President Obama's policy of dialogue with the Iranian government. Many could be heard chanting, "Obama, Obama — either you're with them or you're with us," witnesses said.
U.S. President Barack Obama used the anniversary of the hostage crisis to urge Tehran to make concessions over its nuclear program, saying it needs to turn the page on the past and forge a new relationship with the United States.
"Iran must choose," Obama said. "We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for."
The nuclear question and relations with the West have also caused deep divisions alongside the political furor.
Government supporets at the official rally carried banners saying "We are ready to sacrifice our blood for (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei," and "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" before they dispersed.
Anti-Western rallies take place annually outside the embassy — now called the "den of espionage" in Iran — to mark the anniversary of the day in 1979 that the building was seized.
During the Iranian revolution, militants stormed the embassy on Nov. 4, 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Protesters also targeted the Russian embassy in Tehran, where they chanted "The Russian embassy is a den of spies" and "Death to Russia", in an apparent protest at Moscow's swift recognition of Ahmadinejad's re-election.