Clashes between Iranian police and tens of thousands of protesters broke out in central Tehran on Monday, reportedly killing one person, as opposition supporters tried to evoke the spirit of Egypt's recent popular uprising.
The opposition called for a demonstration Monday in solidarity with Egypt's popular revolt that a few days earlier forced the president there to resign after nearly 30 years in office.
Amateur video on Monday purportedly showed protesters chanting slogans against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The rally was the first major show of strength for Iran's opposition in more than a year.
Eyewitness reports claimed police used tear gas against the protesters in central Tehran's Enghelab, or Revolution, square and in Imam Hossein square, as well as in other main streets nearby.
The pro-government Fars News Agency reported that a bystander was shot dead at the hands of protesters. Eyewitnesses said at least three protesters injured by bullets were taken to a hospital in central Tehran while dozens of others were hospitalised because of severe wounds as a result of being beaten.
One of the amateur videos purportedly shows anti-government protesters marching on a street near Enghelab (or Revolution) Square, then suddenly running back while a woman can be heard screaming "They have fired tear gas." A different amateur video was claimed to show another group of protesters on the road towards Azadi (or Freedom) Square, burning rubbish bins to block the road and chanting "Death to Khamenei." Another, purportedly shot by students outside Shariff University and sent to the Iran News Agency (INA), an opposition group who have a YouTube account, is claimed to show protesters shouting "death to you", apparently in reference to Ahmadinejad. Shariff University is located between Tehran's Freedom and Enghelab or Revolution squares where eyewitnesses reported that sporadic clashes between security forces and opposition protesters were erupting.
There, the demonstrators were chanting "death to the dictator," referring to the country's hardline president that the opposition believes was re-elected through fraud in 2009. AP Television could not independently verify the authenticity of the amateur videos, which have been monitored in London and accessed via YouTube. Eyewitnesses said at least three protesters, injured by bullets, were taken to a hospital in central Tehran while dozens of others were hospitalised because of severe wounds as a result of being beaten. The semi-official Fars news agency called protesters "hypocrites, monarchists, ruffians and seditionists," and ridiculed them for not chanting any slogans about Egypt as they had originally promised. Fars, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guard, Iran's most powerful military force, said an unspecified number of protesters were arrested and handed over to police and security officials.
It didn't elaborate. The security clampdown is reminiscent of the backlash that crushed a wave of massive protests after Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June 2009. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians peacefully took to the streets in support of Mousavi after the June 2009 vote, claiming Ahmadinejad was re-elected through massive vote fraud. A heavy government crackdown suppressed those protests.
The opposition says more than 80 demonstrators were killed in the turmoil. The government, which puts the number of confirmed deaths at 30, accuses opposition leaders of being "stooges of the West" and of seeking to topple the ruling system through street protests.