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IRAN: Officials praise Egyptian uprising, stifle domestic protests

February 11, 2011 | 12:29 pm

Ahmedinejad

Iran's president declared Friday that Egypt's uprising shows a new Middle East is emerging that will doom Israel and break free of American "interference," even as Tehran clamped down on its own opposition movement.

Iran has sought to portray the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as a replay of its 1979 Islamic Revolution -- whose anniversary was marked Friday by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech and state-organized rallies that included chants of support for Egypt's anti-government protests.

"Despite all the [West's] complicated and satanic designs ... a new Middle East is emerging without the Zionist regime and U.S. interference, a place where the arrogant powers will have no place," Ahmadinejad told a crowd filling Tehran's Azadi, or Freedom, Square, according to Iran's state television, which broadcast live images of the gathering on a split screen along with views of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Iranian opposition groups have called for marches on Monday to express solidarity with Egypt's demonstrators. Iranian officials have warned of crackdowns if protesters return to the streets.

In Washington, White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor on Friday denounced Iran's "hypocrisy" for claiming to support Egypt's people while smothering internal voices of dissent, according to the Associated Press.

"For all of its empty talk about Egypt, the government of Iran should allow the Iranian people the same universal right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and communicate in Tehran that the people are exercising in Cairo," Vietor said. "Governments must respect the rights of their people and be responsive to their aspirations."

Tens of thousands marched down Tehran's main boulevard in state-organized rallies, the AP reported. Some chanted in support of Egypt's protesters, others set an effigy of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on fire and mocked him with quips playing off his last name, which means "congratulations" in Farsi.

Ahmadinejad, speaking just hours before Mubarak resigned and transferred control of the country to the armed forces, urged Egyptian protesters to persevere.

"It's your right to be free. It's your right to exercise your will and sovereignty ... and choose the type of government and the rulers," he said.

Last week, Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, told reporters that Iranian officials should listen to the calls for reform from within their own country rather than "distracting the Iranian people's attention by hiding behind what is happening in Egypt."

"Iran's critical moment has not come yet, but we will watch that moment with great anticipation and interest," he told the AP in Cairo.

Iran is applying increased pressure to keep opposition groups from seizing the moment with rallies linked to the Egyptian crisis.

Security forces have arrested several opposition activists, including aides to Iran's opposition leaders, the AP reported. Authorities also placed Mahdi Karroubi, one of Iran's opposition leaders, under house arrest, posting security officers at his door in response to his calls for an Iranian opposition rally in support of the demonstrations in Egypt. Karroubi's website, sahamnews.org, said security officials informed him that the restrictions would remain in place until after Feb. 14.

The AP reported that Iranian State Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi rejected an appeal for marches by Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was declared the runner-up in June 2009 elections that critics say were rigged to give Ahmadinejad victory.

Hossein Hamedani, a senior commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, said any attempt by the opposition to rally supporters on Feb. 14 would be crushed, according to the AP.

Mousavi aide Saleh Noghrehkar and Sadroddin Beheshti, son of another Mousavi aide, Ali Reza Beheshti, were among those arrested, according to opposition website kaleme.com. The website said another opposition activist, Fariba Ebtehaj, a close aide to former reformist Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, has also been arrested.

In London, the British Broadcasting Corp. said the signal for its Persian service was being jammed beginning late Thursday from a source in Iran. The BBC said it believes the action was an attempt to block its extensive coverage of the Egyptian protests.

--  Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, waves to the crowd Friday during a rally on Tehran's Azadi Square. The rally came after his speech marking the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Credit: Atta Kenare / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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