IRAN: As many as 3 million protesters anticipated at Thursday rally
The 22nd day of the Persian calendar month of Bahman, the date 31 years ago when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic republic, is traditionally a time for official patriotic fervor and the unveiling of national achievements.
But on Sunday, a source inside Tehran police headquarters told a friend of the Los Angeles Times in Iran that security forces expect as many as 3 million anti-government protesters to descend on the center of the capital during the holiday, which falls on Thursday this year, after loud calls by opposition leaders to take the streets.
The government is also expected to be prepared, deploying about 12,000 baton-wielding Basiji militiamen from outside the capital and legions of supporters bused in from around the country.
"The government managed to collect and gather around 500,000 supporters," the friend of the newspaper said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This number is very real. All of their efforts have amounted to 500,000."
Official warnings and acts of defiance, including a protest at a Tehran university (above), continued to ratchet up tensions in Iran ahead of the anniversary.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a televised address to the air force, insisted Iran would demonstrate unity and "give all arrogant powers a punch in the mouth" on Thursday. He issued a stern warning to those who continue to oppose the June reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, describing them as agents of the deposed monarchy
"It is now completely known that those who stood against the Iranian nation's choice in the election don't belong to this nation," he said. "They are either counterrevolutionary or are following in the steps of counterrevolutionaries out of ignorance and obstinacy."
On the streets, officials continue to prepare for the holiday, setting up loudspeakers along the traditional march route (see video below) to drown out opposition slogans. Police chief Gen. Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam said security forces would team up with plainclothes pro-government Basiji militiamen and fan out across the city to "neutralize all conspiracies of the enemies."
His deputy, Gen. Ahmad-Reza Radan, predicted the holiday "will mark the burial of sedition."
"Police will not tolerate any unofficial slogan or symbol," he said.
Meanwhile, officials also stepped up pressure on the leaders of the opposition. The armed forces general staff issued a statement carried by the website of the Revolutionary Guard accusing opposition leaders of fomenting continued unrest. "In case they stick to their positions, they will inevitably meet the same difficult fate as their predecessors who stood against the supreme leader," it said.
A group of hard-line lawmakers, who came to office after careful vetting by the unelected jurists of the equally hard-line Guardian Council, warned opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi that the 22nd of Bahman was their "last chance" before unspecified consequences.
An Iranian court sentenced Mohsen Aminzadeh, the reformist former deputy foreign minister, to six years in prison on charges of organizing protests, disturbing the country's security and propagandizing against the system by giving interviews to international news outlets, his lawyer told the Iranian Students News Agency.
Still, opposition groups and figures continued their calls for supporters of the "green movement," the nickname given to the opposition, to head into the streets.
Former President Mohammad Khatami called Thursday a potential turning point in the history of Iran. "God willing, all Iranians will attend the 22 Bahman rally in a bid to show support for the revolution and people's rights," he said in a meeting with reporters of the Iranian Labor News Agency, according to the website of his foundation, Baran.org.ir.
"Those who groundlessly accuse protesters of subversion are voluntarily or involuntarily derailing the revolution from its correct track, and they call into question the principles of the revolution," he said. "Now tell me whether those who protest to deviation from the principles are subversive, or those who utter baseless accusations against people and the revolutionary forces?"
Upper video: Students gather at Tehran's Sharif University on Sunday. Credit: YouTube
Lower video: Construction vehicles place loudspeakers along Tehran's Engehelab Street ahead of Thursday's rally. Credit: YouTube
Upper photo: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Credit: Sepahnews
Lower photo: A portion of a YouTube video showing protesters at Sharif University on Sunday. Credit: Los Angeles Times