2009/07/10

Iran Protesters Take to Streets Despite Threats

Thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on Thursday, clapping, chanting, almost mocking the authorities as they once again turned out in large numbers in defiance of the government’s threat to crush their protests with violence.

As tear gas canisters cracked and hissed in the middle of crowds, and baton-wielding police officers chased protesters up and down sidewalks, young people, some bloodied, ran for cover, but there was an almost festive feeling on the streets of Tehran, witnesses reported in e-mail exchanges.

A young woman, her clothing covered in blood, ran up Kargar Street, paused for a moment and said, “I am not scared, because we are in this together.”

The protesters set trash afire in the street, and shopkeepers locked their gates, then let demonstrators in to escape the wrath of the police. Hotels also served as havens, letting in protesters and locking out the authorities.

It has been almost four weeks since the polls closed and the government announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won re-election in a landslide.

And there have been almost four weeks of defiance, in the face of the government’s repeated, uncompromising and violent efforts to restore the status quo. The government did succeed in keeping people off the streets in the previous 11 days, leaving many to simmer on their own as political insiders and clerical heavyweights slugged it out behind the scenes.

But there was an opening to take to the streets again on Thursday in a collective show of defiance, and many protesters seized it, even though the principal opposition leaders stayed away. Mir Hussein Moussavi, who claims he won the election; another candidate, Mehdi Karroubi; and former President Mohammad Khatami have agreed to pursue their complaints through the legal system and to protest only when a permit is issued.

But the mood of the street never calmed. One witness said that had it not been for the overwhelming show of force, it appeared, tens of thousands would have turned out.

The day was supercharged from the start, with a protest called for 4 p.m. to honor the students who 10 years earlier were bloodied and jailed during a violent confrontation with the police.

Under a hot summer sun, police officers in riot gear patrolled the streets in roving bands of about 50. Then the crowds started to form, men, women and children packing the sidewalks. Traffic stopped and drivers honked or stepped from their cars in solidarity. The people chanted, “Down with the dictator,” “God is great” and “Mouss-a-vi” as they walked along Revolution Street.

“Tell the world what is happening here,” one 26-year-old engineering student said. “This is our revolution. We will not give up.”

Asked what he wanted, he said, “We want democracy.”

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