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IRAN: Prosecutor warns protesters ahead of ancient fire festival

February 28, 2010 |  1:57 pm

Iran-chaharshanbe-ap-sarbakhshian

Two weeks before a cherished Iranian holiday that's celebrated by setting off fireworks and lighting bonfires, Tehran's chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dowlatabadi delivered an ominous warning to those seeking to turn the celebration into a protest event. 

"Police and judges will firmly confront those who intend to go on rampage by exploiting the Chaharshanbeh Souri occasion to create insecurity in the city," state radio quoted him as saying Sunday. "Nobody is opposed to people's celebration and recreation. But those who may damage people and public properties in a bid to vent their frustration will be legally dealt with." 

With roots in Iran's pre-Islamic past, Chaharshanbeh Souri, or Red Wednesday -- celebrated on the last Tuesday night before the March 20 end of the Persian calendar year -- is an unruly, chaotic and downright dangerous night of edgy pyrotechnics and mayhem.

And that's during a calm year.

The celebration had already taken on a distinctly political character, especially since the nation's fundamentalist Muslim clergy have tried unsuccessfully to wipe out such pre-Islamic rituals. But in the wake of the unrest that followed Iran's disputed presidential elections, opposition supporters have called for protests during the nocturnal celebration.

Jafari-Dowlatabadi warned that the prosecutor's offices will be burning the midnight oil monitoring the situation during that night, March 16. He called on parents to keep their children from turning the celebration into one of "suffering and mourning."

"People themselves will never allow anyone to disturb the climate," he said, hinting that plainclothes pro-government Basiji militiamen will be out in full force.

The prosecutor also likened any opposition to the government as a threat to "national security" that would be dealt with harshly. "Whatever has happened in the past eight months since the election are all blatant cases of threats against national security," he said.

"God is administering the Islamic revolution and anyone opposing it is annihilated," he said. "Opponents are trying to deal a blow to the regime and the revolution, but they will take this wish to the grave."

Though Iranian authorities managed to demoralize the opposition movement by quelling protests during the Feb. 11 anniversary of the Islamic revolution, they're clearly not taking chances.

In the Grand Bazaar of Tehran, authorities have cracked down on merchants who openly sell fireworks.

While in previous years vendors used to sell firecrackers along the sidewalks, now nobody dares to openly sell or hawk fireworks, especially with a police station nearby.

Still, young people can be seen discretely haggling for fireworks with lone vendors, the way someone might purchase illegal drugs on the street.

-- Los Angeles Times

Photo: Iranian women jump over a raging fire to celebrate an ancient festival called Chaharshanbeh Souri on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Iranian calendar year. Credit: Hasan Sarbakhshian / Associated Press

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