IRAN: Revolutionary Guard sternly warns protesters before Quds Day
Commanders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard warned of a "crushing confrontation" between hard-liners and peaceful protesters and have called on pro-government demonstrators "to take action" against opposition supporters who take part in Quds Day rallies Friday commemorating the Palestinian cause.
In a statement published on the Revolutionary Guard's Sepah News website.
The Revolutionary Guard, who are close to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, warned people not to chant slogans that defy the official spirit of the day or wear colors or ornaments that have come to symbolize the opposition movement led by Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his allies.
"Police, security forces and especially Revolutionary Guard and Basiji [militiamen] are ready to strongly confront any diversion or counterrevolutionary and anti-popular moves," the statement read.
In what could be interpreted as a call to activate the secretive plainclothes pro-government militiamen who brutalized protesters during previous rallies, the statement also called on "demonstrators" to "not hesitate to take action against any group trying to disturb the official rallies and neutralize the enemies' plots."
Reformists quickly dismissed the threat as ridiculous in a sign of how much Iran's political culture has changed in the months since Ahmadinejad's disputed June reelection victory.
"It is laughable to tell people how to get dressed on Quds Day and warn them of confrontation if they have, for example, green symbols with the," Iranian lawmaker Nasrollah Torabi told the news website Parlemannews.ir. "Quds Day does not belong to a specific faction, and anyone can defend his liberties on that day."
Iran nervously awaits Quds Day, when opposition figures have vowed to take to the streets despite ominous threats by hard-liners. The statement by the Revolutionary Guard accused the protesters of playing into the hands of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency by disrupting the march.
"We have received reports according to which foreign networks, specifically the Zionist regime's spying agency, intend to derail the integrated and cohesive movement of knowledgeable Iranians against the usurper of Jerusalem," the statement said. "We warn individuals and groups who are playing into the hands of the Zionist enemy that they will face crushing confrontation from the courageous children of the nation if they intend to stir disorder in the Quds Day rally."
Authorities have barred the relativey moderate cleric Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from leading Friday prayers after the Quds Day rally. Instead, Ahmadinejad and his loyalist Ahmad Khatami, a shrill hard-liner, will address the faithful. But opposition figures including Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and former President Mohammad Khatami have vowed to take to the streets.
"People are fond of certain figures and they will gather around them," Torabi said. "How do the authorities expect people to conceal their beliefs and views? Any confrontation with people will have negative international consequences for the regime."
-- Borzou Daragahi in BeirutPhoto: Iranian Basiji militiamen ride motorcycles during a July 9 demonstration in Tehran. Credit: Getty Images