The Iranian regime thwarted Opposition plans to hijack the 31st anniversary celebrations of the Islamic revolution yesterday by shipping in tens of thousands of supporters and violently suppressing anti-government protests.
The Opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammed Khatami were attacked by security forces, as was Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Zahra Eshraghi, the reform-minded granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution, was arrested briefly. A protester named Leila Zareii, 27, was reportedly shot and killed.
“It’s pretty clear that Greens everywhere will feel demoralised . . . The overall feeling is one of disappointment,” one source in Tehran told The Times last night.
The three leaders of the so-called Green Movement had urged their supporters to turn out in great numbers but the regime outmanoeuvred them. From early morning it bussed in tens of thousands of supporters to fill Azadi Square for the official celebrations.
Opposition websites said that they were lured by free food and drinks. Other sources said that government employees were compelled to attend.
President Ahmadinejad delivered a speech in which he sought to grab the headlines and divert attention from the protests by announcing that Iran had produced its first stock of 20 per cent-enriched uranium. Iran was now a nuclear state, he declared.
Those were the pictures broadcast to the world because the domestic media and the handful of foreign journalists left in Tehran were confined to Azadi Square. Revolutionary Guards and Basijis — militiamen — some on motorbikes, moved swiftly to crush protests. Opposition websites said that they used live ammunition, batons, teargas and paintballs so they could identify protesters later.
Mr Karroubi’s son, Hossein, said that his father was attacked by plain-clothes security forces near Sadeghieh Square, where thousands of supporters had gathered. His eyes and face were burnt by pepper spray and a bodyguard was seriously injured. Mr Karroubi’s other son, Ali, was arrested.
Ms Rahnavard, 65, was beaten on the back and head by plain-clothes militia and security forces reportedly prevented her husband from joining any demonstration.
The regime disrupted mobile telephone, e-mail and text messaging services but the Opposition managed to post some mobile telephone film clips on the internet. They showed supporters chanting “Death to the dictator”, ripping down a poster of the Ayatollah and burning a Basiji’s motorbike.
Unrest was reported in Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad and other Iranian cities. Because the demonstrations were scattered, it was impossible to estimate the turnout but it appeared to be below that of protests on December 27. One protester said that the Opposition had come out in significant numbers but “the problem was that we were not able to gather in one place because [the security forces] were very violent”. The state-sponsored Press TV declared: “Millions of Iranians mark victory of Islamic Revolution.”
Iranian analysts agreed that the day was a setback for the Green movement. “People wonder where this movement is going. They show up every few weeks and get beaten, but to what end?” said one. “We have lost our fear but we need to know where to go with our new-found courage,” wrote one demonstrator.
Last night nine people were arrested for public order offences during a demonstration by several hundred protesters outside the Iranian Embassy in London. A similar demonstration in Stockholm turned violent. Swedish police made two arrests, and one officer was injured.