IRAN: In Tehran, opposition and government gather forces on eve of 22 Bahman
Military helicopters circled overhead Wednesday as municipal workers erected refreshment stands in Tehran's Azadi Square in preparation for Thursday's nationwide celebration of the founding of the Islamic Republic, according to eyewitnesses.
Meanwhile, opposition protesters are steeling themselves for an impending showdown, coming up with slogans such as "Yes, Islamic Republic, but not dictatorship"; "The continuation of revolution is to fight despotism"; and "Death to oppressors, whether in Gaza or Tehran," according to a witness.
"The regime is really scared," one resident of the capital wrote in an e-mail to The Times. "Anytime [the helicopters] fly over my domicile, everything trembles."
Major television channels Wednesday were dominated by footage of previous years' rallies accompanied by patriotic songs and scrolling tickers that read, "The Iranian nation will rise up on 22 Bahman and will voice their cries of freedom and anti-tyranny."
Alternative media outlets and social networking sites were abuzz with rumors of "shoot to kill" orders and Chinese paintball guns for tagging protesters.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed that the government will be "the sole owner of 22 Bahman," but the authorities aren't taking any chances.
Security forces have announced that no opposition will be tolerated, and have arrested several individuals for preparing "deviant slogans."
"If anyone wants to disrupt this glorious ceremony, they will be confronted by people and we too are fully prepared," Police Chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam told Fars news agency.
The judiciary also sent a strong message Wednesday, sentencing one protester to death and eight to prison for participating in protests in December, and upholding sentences for 35 people arrested in connection with the post-election unrest, according to the website Dadsara.ir, the official news outlet of the judiciary
An appeals court did, however, reduce the Iranian American academic Kian Tajbakhsh's sentence from 15 to five.
Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders says more than 65 journalists and "netizens" have been imprisoned in Iran.
“This is a figure that is without precedent since Reporters Without Borders was created in 1985,” the organization’s secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, said in a statement on the group's website. “The detainees include journalists based in Tehran and the provinces.”
Those with connections to opposition figures are also reportedly being rounded up. The nephew of Mir-Hossein Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, was detained after security forces summoned him to Evin Prison to "answer to some questions," and two senior members of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution have been dismissed for their cooperation with Mousavi's presidential campaigning committees.
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Iranian riot police stand guard under a plaque of the French Embassy covered in eggs that were thrown by protesters in Tehran on Feb. 9, 2010. Dozens of pro-regime militants demonstrated outside several embassies to protest Europe's attitude toward Iran and its controversial nuclear program, European diplomats said. Credit: Hossine Saleh / AFP/Getty Images