Iran marks revolution anniversary with crackdown on opposition, nuclear boasts

TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian security forces unleashed a crushing sweep against opposition protesters on Thursday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution to defy the West and boast his country was now a “nuclear state.”

TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian security forces unleashed a crushing sweep against opposition protesters on Thursday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution to defy the West and boast his country was now a “nuclear state.”

The massive show of force appeared to give authorities the upper hand on the most important day of the Iranian political calendar. The state-backed rally dwarfed anti-government gatherings, which were far smaller than other outpourings of dissent in recent months.

Police clashed with anti-government protesters in several sites around Tehran, firing tear gas to disperse them and paintballs to mark them for arrest. Gangs of hard-liners also attacked senior opposition figures — including the wife of the head of the reform movement.

Still, the day’s events showed that authorities must rely on full-scale pressures to keep a lid on demonstrations, and any breathing room may be limited. Opposition supporters are certain to regroup and look for weak spots in the ruling system.

In his address to a crowd of hundreds of thousands — many bused into Tehran’s Freedom Square — Ahmadinejad sought to shift attention from the nation’s political troubles, boasting instead about Iran’s advancements in nuclear technology. He also dismissed new U.S. sanctions and denigrated President Barack Obama’s efforts to repair relations.

Iran has the capacity to make weapons-grade nuclear fuel if it chooses, the Iranian leader declared, adding that Iran had succeeded in enriching uranium to 20 per cent and was now a “nuclear state.”

“We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 per cent or 80 per cent but we don’t enrich (to this level) because we don’t need it,” he said. “When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb. If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it.”

The Obama administration dismissed Iran’s contention it is enriching uranium at a higher level, adding that such claims were disturbing.

Even if untrue, Ahmadinejad’s claim “further solidifies our impression and that of the international community that Iran’s nuclear intentions are anything but peaceful,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Ahmadinejad has been staunchly backed by Iran’s ruling clerics since his disputed re-election in June touched off the worst internal turmoil in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Now many opposition groups are denouncing the entire Islamic system.

This is what deeply worried authorities preparing for Thursday’s 31st anniversary of the Islamic state. Any significant protests or clashes would be seen as major embarrassment on a day intended to showcase national achievements and unity.

An array of riot police, undercover security agents and hard-line militiamen — some on motorcycles — fanned out across Tehran in what appeared to be the largest and most strategic deployment since the post-election mayhem.

Security forces were seen in nearly every neighbourhood. They had one primary goal: to keep protesters from gaining momentum following weeks of arrests and warnings from authorities.

Opposition Web sites spoke of groups of protesters in the hundreds — compared with much larger crowds in past demonstrations.

One protester told The Associated Press she tried to join the opposition demonstrators but soon left in disappointment because they were overwhelmed by pro-government marchers.

“There were 300 of us, maximum 500. Against 10,000 people,” she told an AP reporter outside Iran.

“It means they won and we lost. They defeated us. They were able to gather so many people,” she said. “But this doesn’t mean we have been defeated for good. It’s a defeat for now, today. We need time to regroup.”

Another protester insisted the opposition had come out in significant numbers, but “the problem was that we were not able to gather in one place because they (security forces) were very violent.”

“Maybe people got scared,” he said. “The idea wasn’t to lose or win today … But what is certain, today was not a good day.”

Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by authorities, who have jailed protesters for talking to foreign media.

Some analysts predict the opposition could move away from large street marches in favour of strikes and boycotts. “The crackdown has been very tough,” said Meir Javedanfar, an analyst. “The lower turnout means either people are scared or, more likely, they will change tactics.”

Despite the smaller opposition turnout, there were reports of clashes in Tehran. Foreign media is banned from street reporting under rules imposed by Iranian authorities.

At least one opposition leader was attacked, but not injured. Dozens of hard-liners with batons and pepper spray attacked the convoy of a senior opposition leader, Mahdi Karroubi, smashing his car windows and forcing him to turn back as he tried to join the protests, his son Hossein Karroubi told the AP.

Authorities also jammed the Internet and mobile phones to disrupt the opposition. In Tehran, Internet speeds dropped dramatically and email services such as Gmail were widely blocked.

In his nationally televised address, Ahmadinejad said Iran has produced the first batch of 20 per cent enriched uranium — sufficient strength to power Iran’s research reactor, — though he did not say how much uranium had been enriched.

Such a process has been at the heart of a U.N.-drafted proposal to provide Iran with reactor-ready fuel in exchange for its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Iran has repeatedly blocked the plan with conditions and caveats.

The announcement of the higher-enriched uranium adds to Western worries that Iran has long-term goals to develop nuclear arms — even though it is still below the 90 per cent-plus level needed for a weapon. Iran insists it only seeks to produce energy and medical isotopes.

Ahmadinejad also criticized Obama for failing to shift U.S. policies.

“We expected Mr. Obama to make changes,” Ahmadinejad said. “But he is losing the chance and not acting properly … Obama’s approach and behaviour is disappointing.”

The gathering was the biggest state-backed event since marches shortly after the June election, which opponents said was rigged. Many in the crowd waved Iranian flags and carried pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic state, and his successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But in a sign of Iran’s unruly political climate, security forces briefly detained Khomeini’s granddaughter and her husband, who are both pro-reform politicians, according to the couple’s son, Ali.

The granddaughter, Zahra Eshraghi, and her husband Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the brother of a former pro-reform president, were held for less than an hour before being released, their son told the AP.

The opposition Web site Kaleme reported that security forces prevented opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from reaching any rallies.

Plainclothes militiamen also beat Mousavi’s wife, 65-year-old Zahra Rahnavard, with clubs on her head and back until her supporters surrounded her and whisked her away, according to the Web site.

For days ahead of the anniversary, anti-government Web sites and blogs called for a major turnout to display green emblems or clothes, the opposition’s signature colour. Some protesters heeded the appeals, brandishing green banners or wore green wrist bands.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse a group of protesters who were trying to march toward Freedom Square as they chanted “death to the dictator,” the opposition Web site Rahesabz said. It also reported a number of arrests.

The apparently isolated clashes contrast with the running street battles during protests over the past few months. In late December, at least eight people were killed during a Shiite holy day.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. Alberta is set to join three other provinces in exploring the feasibility of small modular reactors as a clean energy option. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Four provinces to sign memorandum of understanding to explore small nuclear reactors

Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick sign memorandum of understanding

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2016, file photo, Chris Kempczinski, then-incoming president of McDonald’s USA, speaks during a presentation at a McDonald’s restaurant in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, McDonald’s said the company will mandate worker training to combat harassment, discrimination and violence in its restaurants worldwide starting in 2022. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
McDonald’s to mandate anti-harassment training worldwide

New standards starting in January 2022

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircrafts are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet says it will extend its temporary suspension of international sun flights to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean until June 4. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
WestJet extends temporary suspension of international sun flights until June

Customers with affected itineraries will be notified of cancellations

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brussels on Wednesday for talks with European and NATO allies about Afghanistan, Ukraine and other matters. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool via AP)
US co-ordinates Afghanistan pullout with NATO withdrawal

Attacks on U.S. troops have largely paused but that Taliban attacks on the Afghans increased

Demonstrators take cover from crowd-dispersal munitions from police outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department while protesting the shooting death of Daunte Wright, late Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Minnesota shooting charging decision awaited, protests go on

Police and protesters faced off once again after nightfall Tuesday

A prairie fire in the Burnt Lake district. (Photo by Bert Fors via Red Deer Archives)
Michael Dawe: Fires of spring 1931 in central Alberta

Central Alberta has just come through a relatively warm and dry winter… Continue reading

Gwynne Dyer
Opinion: Boris Johnson is to blame for what’s happening in Ireland

Twenty-three years of peace in Northern Ireland, after a sectarian war that… Continue reading

Canada's Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, fom left, celebrate after winning women's gold medal match against Brazil's team at the Beach Volley Worldtour Major Series, in Vienna, Austria on August 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ronald Zak
Canada’s world champion beach volleyball duo finally getting games before Tokyo

Canada’s world champion beach volleyball duo finally getting games before Tokyo

Toronto Raptors center Khem Birch (24) gets fouled by Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Bogdanovic, Capela lead Hawks past Raptors 107-103

Bogdanovic, Capela lead Hawks past Raptors 107-103

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu throws to a New York Yankees batter during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Ryu sharp into 7th, Semien homers as Blue Jays top Yanks 7-3

Ryu sharp into 7th, Semien homers as Blue Jays top Yanks 7-3

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau (13) scores the game winning goal on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender David Rittich (33) in overtime NHL action in Toronto on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Gaudreau scores in overtime, Flames beat Maple Leafs 3-2

Gaudreau scores in overtime, Flames beat Maple Leafs 3-2

Jim Bullock, Vicki Pappas and Randy Waples off to Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame

Jim Bullock, Vicki Pappas and Randy Waples off to Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame

Most Read