Hundreds march in Iranian opposition rally


TEHRAN – Hundreds of Iranians marched toward a Tehran square on Monday in a banned rally supporting popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, but their way was blocked by police and security forces, witnesses said. The march was a test of strength for the reformist opposition, which has not taken to the streets since Dec. 2009, when eight people were killed. But Iranian security forces are still unlikely to hesitate to use all means to stop any protest.
Opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi took advantage of official Iranian backing for the huge Arab street protests to call their own demonstrations in solidarity, but authorities refused their request. The opposition nevertheless renewed the call for the rally. Iranian authorities have warned the opposition to avoid creating a “security crisis” by reviving protests that erupted after the vote, the biggest unrest in Iran since the 1979 revolution.
Hundreds of demonstrators marched down Azadi (Freedom) and Enghelab streets, both forming a wide boulevard leading to Azadi Square, a traditional rallying point for protests dominated by a huge white marble arch, in central Tehran. “Hundreds of people are marching towards Azadi and Enghelab streets,” one witness said. “Hundreds of riot police are in the area as well but there are no clashes.” Hundreds of marchers also gathered in the central city of Isfahan, witnesses said.
Police and state security men were prepared in Tehran. “There are dozens of police and security forces in Vali-ye Asr Avenue … They have blocked entrances of metro stations in the area,” a witness told Reuters earlier, referring to a large thoroughfare that cuts through the Iranian capital. Mousavi’s website, Kalame, said that the opposition leader and his wife Zahra Rahnavard were unable to join the march.
“Mirhossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard are still trying to leave their house and join the protests… but security forces are preventing them. Security forces have even threatened Mousavi’s guards to not allow them to leave the house by any means,” the website said. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia an “Islamic awakening”, akin to the 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah.