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Iran Protests: Reinvigorated Activists Take to the Streets in Thousands
Riot police and basiji militia use teargas on protesters, with reports that one demonstrator was killed in clashes
Thousands of defiant protesters in Iran's capital have clashed with security officials as they marched in a banned rally. One person was reported killed, with dozens injured and many more arrested.
Supporters of the Green movement appeared in scattered groups in various locations in central Tehran and other big cities in what was seen as the Iranian opposition's first attempt in more than a year to hold street protests against the government.
The riot police and government-sponsored plainclothes basiji militia used teargas, wielded batons and opened fire to disperse protesters who chanted "death to the dictator", a reference to both Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Witnesses told the Guardian that despite a heavy security presence, small groups of people succeeded in gathering in main squares leading to Azadi ("freedom") Square – a chosen focal point.
HRANA, a human rights website, reported that one protester was killed and three injured when riot police opened fire at protesters near Tohid Square in Tehran. The website also said that at least 250 protesters have been arrested. Opposition websites also reported significant gatherings in the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan, Rasht, Mashhad and Kermanshah.
An Iranian student who participated in a protest in Enghelab Square in Tehran, who asked not to be identified, said: "What I saw in the streets today was very promising. It showed that the green movement is quite alive in spite of all crackdowns and arrests and people are still striving for freedom."
Last week, opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi issued a call for renewed protests in solidarity with demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia. The government, in response, arrested dozens of activists and journalists.
Opposition websites also reported that Iranian authorities blocked access to the houses of Mousavi and Karroubi.
Mousavi's official website, Kaleme.org, which was shut down for most of the day, said that phone communications of the leaders of the Green movement had been cut off and their houses were surrounded by security officials who prevented them from joining the protesters.
The opposition initially speculated that the presence of the Turkish president Abdullah Gul, in Tehran to meet President Ahmadinejad today, might result in the more lenient treatment of protesters so not as to embarrass an Iranian ally.
Gul, whose country has praised protesters in Egypt, was invited by Mousavi's top adviser, Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand, to join today's "pro-Egypt" protest but chose instead to say: "When leaders and heads of countries do not pay attention to the demands of their nations, the people themselves take action to achieve their demands."
Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naghdi said the protests in Tehran had been ignited by "western spies". He was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying: "Western intelligence agencies are searching for a mentally challenged person who can set himself on fire in Tehran to trigger developments like those in Egypt and Tunisia."
He added: "They [the west] are very retarded and think by imitating such actions they can emerge victorious."
Foreign media based in Tehran were not allowed to report on today's events. Protesters turned to social networking websites to spread messages and uploaded amateur videos to YouTube.
A video from Monday's events in Tehran showed a protester on top of a crane in central Tehran, holding pictures of some of those killed in the 2009 post-election unrest.
Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University in New York, said: "With the revolutionary uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the Green movement has assumed a renewed energy and has become even more radical than it was during the summer and fall of 2009. In today's demonstrations the slogans were all targeted against Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and the last presidential election are all behind the Green Movement now."
A wave of unrest hit Iran following the disputed presidential election in 2009, but in the ensuing crackdown, dozens were killed, hundreds injured and thousands arrested. Since then, the opposition has largely been forced underground or on to the internet, where – despite government efforts to control the web – protesters have been active on social networking sites.