July 17, 2009

UNITY, BUT POST-AHMEDINEJAD:

Iranian protesters galvanized by sermon: They clash with security forces in Tehran after a sermon by top cleric Hashemi Rafsanjani, who criticized the election and called for rule of law, unity and dialogue. (Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, July 18, 2009, LA Times)

Mousavi's backers widely interpreted Rafsanjani's speech as anything but a call for unity. They chanted boisterous anti-government slogans for hours in defiance of menacing security forces and plainclothes Basiji militiamen.

Immediately after his speech, Tehran residents could be heard from rooftops and balconies in various districts shouting support for Rafsanjani.

"The main goal of Rafsanjani's sermon today was to improve his own position so that he can pressure Khamenei," said Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst. "He got large numbers to come to the streets and to listen to him. He showed that he is not a spent force."

Even before the speech, security forces were taking away young men in police vans. Helmeted Basiji militiamen aboard motorcycles began pushing toward crowds of young men and women brandishing eye-catching ribbons in green, the color of the opposition movement. Some women defiantly wore chadors in bright green instead of the traditional black.

After the sermon, downtown Tehran erupted in violence. Security forces attacked demonstrators, older and grayer than recent gatherings, who were chanting "Death to the dictator!" and "God is great."

Tear gas filled streets as protesters sought to enter the gates of the university, which riot police had locked. The crowds swarmed through downtown, chanting slogans, lighting cigarettes and holding them in front of their faces to counter the effects of the tear gas.

Masked demonstrators also set fire to trash in the middle of roadways to burn off the tear gas, videos posted on YouTube showed. One group shut down two highways, while a second handed flowers to smiling policemen and kissed them on the cheeks, according to witnesses.

Another large group gathered in front of the Ministry of Interior, which is under the control of Sadegh Mahsouli, a wealthy ally of Ahmadinejad.

"Mahsouli! Mahsouli! Give my vote back," they chanted, according to a video posted to YouTube.

Demonstrators also began to head north to approach the headquarters of state broadcasting, which has barely reported on the unrest and aired a cooking show on television during Rafsanjani's speech.

"Last Thursday five of my friends were arrested, and they are in . . . Evin Prison, and it's my duty to come and participate," said Nahid, a 22-year-old law student who asked that her last name not be published.

Reformist websites estimated that more than 1 million people participated. That number could not be confirmed, but even supporters of the hard-line camp who attended the prayer session to show support for Khamenei acknowledged that the crowds were huge.

"Mousavi caused all these problems," said a 50-year-old man who identified himself only by his first name, Hossein. "This is his fault."

As night fell, the boisterous roar of "God is great" could be heard from rooftops across the capital in what has become a daily gesture of protest against Ahmadinejad, who is to be sworn in for a second term early next month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 17, 2009 7:51 PM
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