DUBAI—Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticized protesters as agents of foreign powers ahead of antigovernment demonstrations planned for Thursday, setting the stage for clashes that analysts say pose big risks for both sides.
For weeks, opposition leaders have called for their supporters to use Feb. 11—the culmination of celebrations marking the 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution—to stage fresh protests. Government officials, meanwhile, have threatened retaliation. Authorities have locked up alleged protest organizers, hanged at least two political prisoners, and vowed to execute other detainees who have been rounded up and charged in previous protests.
Amid the heightened rhetoric, the stakes have increased for both sides, analysts say. If the opposition fails to turn out in large numbers on Thursday, Iranian authorities could appear to have finally marginalized protest organizers, after more than eight months of sporadic, often-violent clashes with security services. But if Tehran fails to prevent massive protests once again on Feb. 11—despite using some of its harshest tactics so far—officials risk appearing impotent to curb further unrest.
"For both sides, this is almost a make-or-break day," said Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University. "If the opposition doesn't have a good showing, it will be a big setback. If the regime, despite throwing everything at [preventing demonstrations], does... >>>
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