Iran police crack down on student protesters

Dec 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Iran police crack down on student protesters

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service

Monday, December 7, 2009 7:31 AM

Demonstrations in Iran (from this summer)

Demonstrations in Iran (from this summer)

TEHRAN — Iranian police clashed with anti-government protesters in central Tehran on Monday, witnesses said, wielding batons, firing tear gas and shooting guns into the air to disperse crowds outside Tehran University.

Witnesses said security forces also arrested some demonstrators, though few details we available.

Authorities cracked down on the “Student Day” demonstrations by warning ahead of time that such gatherings would be considered illegal and met by force. The mobile phone network — a main mode of communication among anti-government groups — was shut down in some parts of the capital, as were connections used by internet major providers. Satellite TV transmissions that are normally used by foreign-based, Farsi-language opposition channels, were scrambled all over the capital.

Foreign journalists were told to stay off the streets until Wednesday and not to report from the demonstration sites, and campuses were sealed off by hundreds of riot police, Revolutionary Guard forces and members of the Basij, a voluntary paramilitary arm of the guards corps.

“When we want to gather to shout slogans, they come and break us up,” one witness said from the Tehran University campus. “The anti-government students are outnumbered.”

The demonstrations, nearly six months after the disputed presidential elections that spawned the largest anti-government protests in Iran since 1979, marked the yearly remembrance in Iran known as National Student Day. University students commemorate three scholars killed by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s security forces on Dec. 7, 1953 as they protested the ouster of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.

Until 10 years ago, the annual protests were supported by the government. But more recently they have served as a rallying point for anti-government demonstrations, usually only on campus grounds.

In an early warning that protests might turn violent, the pro-government newspaper Kayhan, which is strongly connected to Iran’s security forces, published a special analysis Monday that said there was a high possibility of fatalities among the students.

“An anti-government network wants to kill students in order to use this for their propaganda,” the article said.

But Mir Hussein Mousavi, a former presidential candidate representing the opposition, said in a statement released Sunday that security forces are waging a losing battle.

“You are fighting shadows on the streets, but are losing your trenches one by one in the people’s conscience,” he said.

The violent crackdown on demonstrators in recent months has only further antagonized the public against the government, according to members of Iran’s political establishment.

Saying they fear for the nation’s future, they are stepping up demands that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top officials work out a compromise with their political opponents.

“When you attack moderates, you breed radicals,” said Amir Mohebbian, a former politician who shares Ahmadinejad’s ideology but is critical of his policies. “Our leaders should say to the core of the protesters: ‘We are not against you.’ Otherwise, our system might be in danger.”

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