Iran protesters defy government ban
By Afshin Valinejad
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 1999
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- In a flashback to the revolution
that installed Iran's Islamic government 20 years ago, baton-wielding police
fired tear gas to disperse 10,000 protesters on the streets of Tehran today,
the sixth day of protests against hard-liners who have thwarted reform
Demonstrators quickly regrouped in nearby streets where they burned
buses and hurled abuse at hard-line clerics.
The unrest that started Thursday has left two people dead and scores
injured. It is the first time students and ordinary Iranians have taken
to streets in such big numbers to confront the powerful hard-liners opposing
the political and social reforms of moderate President Mohammad Khatami,
a hero of the protesters.
The protests have spread to at least 10 other towns during the past
days, highlighting the widespread frustration with the clerics. Iran has
not witnessed such serious public protests -- up to 25,000 took part in
one rally in Tehran -- since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Today's violence began after police in helicopters, speaking through
loudspeakers, asked demonstrators to vacate the area, warning them of arrest,
witnesses contacted by telephone from Dubai said.
When the students did not leave, police in riot gear fired tear gas,
moved into the crowd and pulled away men and women by the hair while beating
others with batons. Scores were hauled away in police trucks, the witnesses
said, requesting anonymity.
The area was cleared within minutes, but a few hundred people fled
south of the sprawling campus and set several empty buses in the commercial
district ablaze, the witnesses said.
Another group of about 1,000 gathered on a nearby street north of the
university. Some lit small fires in the road.
Students shouted ``unity, unity,'' and slogans against Ansar, a vigilante
group whose thugs are controlled by the hard-liners.
Shops and banks closed and pedestrians fled, the witnesses said.
Three Iranian journalists -- two cameramen working for a German TV
network and a reporter with another foreign news agency -- were beaten
The TV journalists said the protesters smashed their car and attacked
them, presuming they worked for Iranian television, which is controlled
by the hard-liners and has been criticized for its biased coverage of the
The reporters, who didn't wish to be identified further, said the protesters
hurled abuse and chanted slogans against hard-liners.
Official Tehran radio called the protesters ``rioters'' who had gone
on the rampage and smashed shop windows. It said ``security forces dealt
with them firmly.''
``One moment everything was fine, and the next moment everything went
crazy,'' said one witness who was in the middle of the crowd.
Life in other parts of the sprawling city of 10 million was normal,
On Monday police also attacked at least two groups of demonstrators
with tear gas and batons and fired gunshots in the air. Scores were arrested.
Late Monday, the Tehran governor's office said that ``no form of gathering''
would be allowed today.
Khatami and moderate newspapers also have urged people to break up
the protests, fearing the demonstrations would spin out of control and
lead to a brutal police crackdown that would further set back Khatami's
Since Khatami's May 1997 election, ordinary citizens had hoped the
strict social and political restrictions they have lived under since the
revolution would be loosened.
But they have been frustrated by the hard-liners' unyielding hold on
power because of the support of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
and their total control of the armed forces, the police, the judiciary,
the Intelligence Ministry and the media.
The demonstrations were triggered by the unauthorized police raid on
a Tehran University hostel early Friday after the students rallied Thursday
against the banning of a liberal newspaper. The attack apparently was carried
out with the backing of hard-line clerics.
One person was killed and 20 injured in the assault. On Sunday, a theology
student was shot dead in the northwestern city of Tabriz, where students
smashed shop windows and set a vehicle on fire. A large but peaceful funeral
was held for him today, IRNA reported.
Iran fired two security chiefs and reprimanded a third after the raid,
but the steps have failed to appease the protesters.