News Round-up: Ashura Demonstrations

Dec 28, 20090 comments

Front page of the LA Times: December 28, 2009Rumors flew around yesterday, many of which have been confirmed: shots were fired into crowds and an untold number were wounded and killed. Mir Hossein Mousavi’s nephew was shot in what seems to have been a targeted assassination, human rights defenders and opposition members were arrested, security forces were challenged. Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim’s story of demonstrations on Ashura dominated the front page of the LA Times.

One video shows protesters pulling a policeman out of a van in an apparent attempt to free demonstrators locked inside. Another taken from the back seat of a car shows a swarm of demonstrators confronting armed police, overpowering and pushing the officers aside. “Young boys, even younger than me, braved all the tear gas, and motorcycles of the anti-riot police storming them,” said Ehsan, a 22-year-old student at Tehran’s Science and Technology University who has attended all the protests. He asked that his full name not be used. “Some of the young people, only holding sticks . . . counterattacked the anti-riot police and Basijis,” he said. “As soon as they were beaten up or dispersed by tear gas they appeared on some other corners. I have never remembered such a day with so many brave people.”

Robert Worth and Nazila Fathi of the New York Times report on the arrest of Mousavi’s aides and summarize the day’s events, reporting that the killing of Ali Mousavi was targeted.

A prominent opposition figure said the younger Mr. Moussavi was shot to death by assassins on Sunday, and that the authorities took his body to prevent a funeral ceremony.

They quote a Tehran laborer saying:

“People in my neighborhood have been going to the Ashura rituals every night with green fabric for the first time,” said Hamid, 33, a laborer who lives in the southern Tehran neighborhood of Shahreh-Ray and declined to give his last name. “They have been politicized recently, because of the suppression this month.”

In an article by Najmeh Bozorgmehr of the Financial Times, reformists express concern that the movement is becoming radicalized.

Eyewitnesses said yesterday’s rally appeared bigger and more tense than some of the mass rallies seen in June. The demonstrators also appeared to be less afraid of the security forces, observers said. As police used teargas, batons and fired shots into the air to try to disperse the crowd, some demonstrators urged those around them to stand firm. “Don’t be scared. We are safe as long as we are a big crowd,” one woman, in a black top-to-toe Islamic covering, shouted to those around her, according to an eyewitness. The demonstrators threw stones at armed security forces, allegedly set fire to motorbikes and cars, and broke windows. Some of the reformists expressed concern about a more extreme tone seemingly emerging in the protests. “It is really worrying that the slogans are getting more radical,” said Hamid-Reza Jalaeipour, a reformist sociologist.

Thomas Erdbrink writes that the demonstrators more actively resisted the security forces than ever before and his article expands on Jalaeipour’s comment:

He said the Government would probably respond with an even bigger crackdown. ”Everything will, from now on, be harsher, tougher, stronger,” he said. Mr Jalaeipour suggested an alternative that he said the Government was unlikely to pursue: ”The correct solution for the Government is to answer the requests of the opposition, not to stand in front of them and prevent them.” The latest demonstrations began on December 7 and have been building since then with protests at universities nationwide.