IRAN: 'Dull' annual press fair turns into a chaotic protest, counter-protest
An ordinarily staid annual media expo in Tehran erupted into chaos this week as opposition supporters and pro-government militiamen squared off.
Normally, the 16-year-old exhibition is meant to showcase Iranian press as well as international news outlets with a presence in the Islamic Republic. Last year, even the Los Angeles Times was invited to set up a booth.
Alas, no invite for us this year following the political and social tension unleashed by Iran's disputed June 12 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
One witness said women chanting in support of the opposition managed to drown out Ahmadinejad supporters deriding Karroubi as a "hypocrite," code word for a despised exile group.
"He was beaten on the head with a green balloon," the witness said. "It was a farcical scene."
Afterward, enraged Karroubi supporters trashed pro-Ahmadinejad news agencies' exhibition stands, the witness said.
On Sunday, the arrival of Ali Reza Beheshti, a top aide to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, at the exhibition hall sparked a fresh confrontation, Iranian news websites reported.
According to the website Tabnak, "The supporters of Beheshti and Mousavi increased chanting slogans in response to the chanting of some individuals, and this disturbed the atmosphere of the exhibition."
Others founds more peaceful ways to express themselves. At a stand for the Academy of Arts, which is headed by Mousavi, supporters quietly wrote admiring notes in the guest book using ballpoint pens with green ink, the signature color of the opposition movement.
Other than the confrontations between the two political camps, the press fair was even duller than usual, witnesses said. The Paris-based press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders recently ranked Iran fourth from last in its rankings of journalistic freedom.
"This year worse than last year," said a journalist attending the fair as a representative for a media organization. She asked not to be named.
"Censorship made the periodicals dull," she said. "People do not come to have hot talks with us about the daily news and political development. This year, the stands of the state-run media gave away prizes to woo people to visit them."
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Video and photo: From a compilation of clips showing the unrest at this year's media fair. Credit: YouTube