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Tehran's wild nights of protest

Iran's election aftermath: The view from the streets of Tehran

On Jolfa Street, a largely residential avenue, locals clustered at street corners shouting slogans and spreading news of Monday's rally planned by opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who is challenging the election results. Smoke from car exhaust and several fires created a choking atmosphere. Young men and women stopped columns of cars with their bodies and shouted slogans with a strange intensity until motorctycle-mounted riot police swarmed down the road, prompting them to flee.

"Sukute har musalman, ehanat ast be Quran," (The silence of every Muslim, is a sin by the Quran) shouted a group of black-hijabed middle-aged ladies.

It is 3 a.m. and a shell-shocked peace has descended on the center of the city. Tehran's wide avenues are smoldering to the echo of water running in the water-channels that bring icemelt down from the mountains behind the city. At intersections, groups of police stand talking to each other and to Ahmadinejad supporters emerging from their houses to reclaim the night for their celebrations.

Siren lights blink at every intersection, bathing the multi-story cement and glass buildings in red then blue. A suffocating mix of car exhaust and the acrid remnants of blazes suffuses the air.

As we drive, the cars around us begin a frenzied honking that is more mass hysteria than any kind of pro-Mousavi expression. The klaxons become wilder and wilder until a long column of vans ferrying Yegan-e Vizhe (Special Units) overtake us, bringing silence upon the chaotic crowd of automobiles. The soldiers stare at us blankly through smudged visors, seemingly contemplating the fires they'll be called to quell on their journey to the night's riots.

Humor has also been on display even during the worst of the violence. Even as the mounted motorcyclists of the riot police swooped down on demonstrators who ran for their lives, an overweight Iranian man mounted a motorbike and, holding on to his friend who was driving, adopted a mock-heroic voice and shouted, "Don't be scared, I will protect you!"

The burning of garbage cans — hundreds of them across the city — has become so commonplace that Tehranis are beginning to joke that the true force behind the fires is the city municipality in an innovative technique to dispose of rubbish without having to pay garbage collectors' salaries.

"I'm just putting the rubbish out to be torched and will be right back," a friend smirked as she put on her headscarf to carry a large plastic bag out of her flat and into the street.

"Karroubi came fifth in the elections," announced a protester, referring to the only cleric among four candidates, who received an unrealistically low percentage of 0.89%. "He got less votes than the blanks."

(Iason Athanasiadis is reporting from Iran on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.)

More GlobalPost dispatches on Iran:

Tehranis riot, claiming flawed poll results

As night falls, Tehran still ablaze

 'New' dawn breaks over Iran

Iran's elections: The view from the highway

Iran's elections: The view from the US

Young, Iranian and ready for change

Seven visas: Reporting from Iran