Iranian Students Clash With Police

Dec 7, 20090 comments

The protests, taking place on National Student Day, set off battles in and around campuses, witnesses said. Protesters hurled rocks and set fires amid clouds of tear gas, while a vast deployment of police officers and plainclothes Basij militia members used chains, truncheons and stun guns to beat back chanting protesters. There were reports of dozens of arrests and injuries. Many witnesses said the day’s confrontations were the most violent since the rallies after last June’s disputed presidential election. The protests — the opposition’s first major street showing in more than a month — also included the most aggressive gestures aimed at the Islamic republic yet, witnesses said, with some protesters burning posters of PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader. Other marchers carried an Iranian flag from which the signature emblem of Allah — added after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution — had been removed. At Sharif University in Tehran, protesters could be seen on a video clip posted on YouTube chanting “death to the oppressor, whether shah or supreme leader.” The authorities had barricaded and surrounded universities in an effort to forestall dissent on an official holiday commemorating the killing of three students by the shah’s forces in 1953. They arrested dozens of student leaders, ordered foreign news outlets to stay away and reduced the Internet to a trickle to limit the opposition’s main link to its supporters. Nevertheless, large crowds of university students gathered on campuses across Iran on Monday morning, many holding banners or wearing armbands in the opposition’s trademark bright-green, to chant “God is great!” and “Death to the dictator!” Twitter and opposition Web sites featured video clips of rallies in Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Tabriz and other cities. One video showed hundreds of students at Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran waving bank notes in the air to ridicule the Basij members, who are officially volunteers but who are widely said to receive money for cracking down on protesters. Another video showed students breaking down the university’s front gates, which the authorities had locked to prevent the protests from spreading. Another group of protesters near Tehran University waved a Russian flag at the police and then set it on fire, in a gesture mocking the Iranian government’s ritual anti-Americanism. Russia was quick to recognize Mr. Ahmadinejad as president after the election, prompting protests from opposition supporters, who believe the election was stolen through extensive fraud. The renewed protests come at a delicate time for Iran’s government, which recently rejected an international proposal to transport the country’s uranium abroad for processing. On Sunday, Ayatollah Khamenei lashed out angrily at the United States and Britain, warning that they “will launch propaganda to say there is division” inside Iran. Web sites reported that the opposition leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubihad been blocked from attending the protests. When Mr. Moussavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, arrived at Tehran University’s art school, where she is a professor, female Basij members harassed her and attacked her and her entourage with pepper spray as they left, opposition Web sites reported, citing witnesses. Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, could be seen at the protests in Tehran on one video clip. She was later detained, opposition Web sites said. Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Moussavi issued strong criticisms of the government over the weekend. Mr. Moussavi, the leading challenger to Mr. Ahmadinejad in the June elections, issued a statement on Sunday saying that the opposition movement was “still alive” and that the authorities would not be able to stop the protests by arresting students. Mr. Rafsanjani, a pragmatic figure who provided crucial support to the opposition over the summer but has been silent lately, criticized the government on Sunday for using the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards against crowds, and complained that “constructive criticism is not tolerated in the country.” Iran’s official IRNA news agency, which had played down protests during two national holidays in September and November, took a different tack on Monday, broadcasting images of street fires and angry youths that suggested that the protests were nothing more than riots by hooligans. That message was in keeping with the government’s new emphasis on fighting the opposition through the news media. Thousands of people rallied against the government on Monday at universities across Iran, defying a wide-ranging effort to suppress the protests and bringing a new ferocity to the opposition movement’s confrontation with the state. But the government itself relied on large numbers of Basij militia members who often seemed to get out of control, hurling rocks at protesters and attacking passers-by. According to one report widely circulated on Iranian Web sites, a group of militia members with chains and truncheons attacked a bus full of riot police officers. It was not clear why they would have done so. On Monday morning, police officers were deployed in huge numbers around universities across the country to forestall the expected protests. At the gate of Tehran University, temporary fencing blocked off much of the main square, and hundreds of officers stood guard. A banner at least 150 feet long had been placed on scaffolding over the university gate. The gate was emblazoned with large festive letters with a message about an Islamic holiday, but its purpose was clear: to block passers-by from seeing anything inside the university grounds. By midmorning the crowds near Tehran University had swelled to the thousands, and the police could no longer easily control them. As the protesters began chanting “death to the dictator,” the police periodically beat them back with batons. Not far away, a middle-aged woman turned furiously on a young Basij militia member who was filming the protesters — a common intimidation tactic during protests. As the woman beat him with her pocketbook and screamed curses, a second Basij member tried to restrain her, but a male protester grappled with him in turn, and a fistfight broke out between the two men. The protests lasted through the afternoon, and after nightfall, groups of students on a number of campuses began holding candlelight vigils for those who had been arrested during the day. Source: