Tens of thousands of protesters chanted and carried banners through the heart of Tehran and other Iranian cities on Friday, hijacking a government-organized anti-Israel march and injecting new life into the country’s opposition movement.
The protests, held in defiance of warnings from the clerical and military elite, served as a public embarrassment to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had hoped to showcase national unity just two weeks before he is set to meet Western leaders for talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
He used the annual rally for Jerusalem Day, also known as Quds Day, to deliver a fiery anti-Israeli speech in which he called the Holocaust “a lie” and impugned the West again for its criticisms of Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential election.
But his efforts to recapture the stage were largely drowned out by a tumultuous day of street rallies, in which the three main opposition leaders marched with their followers for the first time in months. Flouting the official government message of support for Palestinian militants, they chanted, “No to Gaza and Lebanon, I will give my life for Iran.”