Connect to share and comment

Has Iran learned how to prevent protests?

Troops and crowd control mark celebrations of the anniversary of Iran's revolution.

An image of U.S. President Barack Obama with a knife hidden behind his back is carried in mass demonstrations to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran, Feb. 11, 2010. (Caren Firouz/Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent out thousands of troops today to make sure that opposition protesters did not mar demonstrations to mark the 31st anniversary of Iran's 1979 revolution.

Opposition protesters called for a referendum on the future of the Islamic Republic and clashed with security forces in isolated incidents.

The government deployed tens of thousands of security forces and militiamen on the main demonstration routes in Tehran and other major cities to guard against what it called “infiltration by counter-revolutionaries.”

Pro- and anti-government demonstrators offered conflicting estimates of their numbers. State television showed thousands of loyalists moving along Tehran’s Revolution Boulevard into Freedom Square, where Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has already enriched part of its uranium stockpile to 20 percent.

Opposition leaders claimed that the crowds were bused in from the provinces and offered free food to attend. Eyewitnesses reported reduced numbers of both government and anti-government protesters compared to previous government-organized events reflecting the tensions dominating Iran’s major cities.

“It’s dead, done, finished,” said Sara, an architect and opposition supporter in Tehran of the street protests. 

Though Sara had attended many of the post-election rallies last year, she said she did not dare go out today or give her name for fear of official retribution. She said the street protests against the Ahmadinejad government were no longer viable, she thought, because of the heavy presence of government troops. “There were five times the numbers of troops on the streets, so many they would not allow anyone to move,” she said over the telephone.

Speaking from a stand in front of a large crowd, Ahmadinejad condemned the West as “liars and cowards” and predicted the end of the capitalist system and its “inhumane method of thought.” His voice was carried over a disjointed-sounding live audio feed that opposition supporters said was broadcast with a several seconds time delay.

Tight security ensured that no one carrying or wearing opposition paraphernalia entered the square where Ahmadinejad delivered his speech but opposition sources claimed that they managed to burn an Iranian flag close to the official pavilion. Foreign journalists were bused in and out of the square and allowed only to cover the government event.

“I know and admit that my country is not the best, the system and its government and maybe those who ruled the country had and still have a lot of woes and shortages,” said Freshteh Sadeghi, a regime supporter in an email message, “but if we lose this Islamic Republic what will we get instead — a secular republic which obeys the U.S.? Thanks but no thanks, we don’t want it.”