Twenty months after the June 2009 presidential election, Tehran streets have witnessed fresh protests.
Tens of thousands of people, most of them young, appeared on the streets on Monday afternoon in protests against the government. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors. Many were detained and reportedly at least one person was shot dead. [Government sources have confirmed two deaths. Ed.]
Around 3pm people gathered in Imam Hossein Square to march silently toward Enqelab Square and then to the rally focal point in Azadi Square. People came to the streets after two opposition leaders, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, asked for a peaceful march on Monday in support of the Egyptian and Tunisian people last week. This request was rejected right away by the government.
People from all over the city started their rally silently through Enqelab Street. It was crystal clear that the police were shocked to witness such a huge crowd. More people appeared by 4pm. Soon the streets were full of riot police backed by forces from the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia who occupied all the main junctions. The ralliers walked toward Azadi Square in the heavy presence of police forces.
Early that morning Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his wife had been placed under house arrest in order to prevent them attending the rally. Mehdi Karroubi, a former parliament speaker and a senior cleric, was also placed under house arrest this week.
At noon, police forces were deployed across Tehran’s main squares. Tehran, Amirkabir and Sharif universities also were surrounded by police special units. As the crowd grew, police forces and plain-clothes men clashed with people trying to move to adjunct streets. Cellular telephone services were shut off and traffic was cut in central Tehran. Subway stations along Enqelab and Azadi streets were closed to prevent people reaching the streets leading to Azadi Square.
In the days before the planned rally, the government blocked access to websites, jammed satellite signals, cut SMS services and vowed to crack down on ralliers severely. However, people still kept each other up to date about the rally using the internet via community websites like balatarin.com, Facebook and email.
As I passed Enqelab Square toward Azadi Square, I saw severe clashes between government forces and people. Men on motorbikes fired paintball guns on demonstrators and beat many with batons and electric shockers. Many were detained by plain-clothes forces and riot police and moved to detention vans. In Azadi Square police used tear and pepper gas and water cannons. People set rubbish bins on fire to lessen the effect of the gas. Other eyewitnesses told me that demonstrators were detained after falling as they ran away from water cannons. Local power supplies were also cut out in some parts of the city.
Demonstrators chanted slogans against Iran’s Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei saying "Death to the Cictator" and "Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it’s time for Sayyid Ali!" Behaviour like this hasn’t been seen since the 2009 protests.
Many people were happy to see their fellow citizens on the streets saying "thank God, the movement is still alive". They were referring to the Green Movement which emerged in the aftermath of the 2009 disputed elections and demanded vital changes in Iran. Many said, "just our presence on the streets is a great victory over the government." Women stood shoulder to shoulder with men, something usual in Iran and rare in recent demonstrations in other parts of the Arab world.
There was no immediate mention of the clashes in Tehran on state media but during the night some mentioned the event as "a small crowd of hypocrites, monarchists, ruffians and seditionists" gathered in central Tehran "breaking and firing public properties."
Clashes continued till late at night as gradually people were dispersed, but the police presence in central Tehran remains heavy.
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