IRAN PROCLAIMS ITSELF A ‘NUCLEAR STATE’ AMID DRACONIAN MEASURES AGAINST MEDIA, PROTESTERS

BY MARTIN FLETCHER
The London Times

Iran’s regime sought to thwart another massive opposition protest today by turning out its own supporters in huge numbers, imposing draconian restrictions on the media and making the headline-grabbing announcement that the Islamic Republic was now a “nuclear state”.

Determined to prevent the so-called Green Movement from hijacking the biggest day in Iran’s calendar, the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, the regime also flooded Tehran with security forces who moved swiftly and violently to break up opposition demonstrations.

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Police hold back the crowd as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks
during a ceremony to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran February 11, 2010.

The opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammed Khatami – a former president – were attacked. Zahra Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution, was briefly arrested. She is married to Mr Khatami’s brother and her own brother, Hassan, has made clear his hostility to the regime.

iran-feb-11-2
Mehdi Karroubi

Mr Karroubi’s son, Hussein, said his father had to get out of his car and walk towards Sadeghieh Square, where thousands of supporters had gathered, because the roads were blocked. He was joined by hundreds of other protestors, but they found their way blocked by plainclothes security forces who attacked them with knives, batons and teargas.

Mr Karroubi’s bodyguards had to bundle him into a passing car which managed to drive him away, but not before the security forces smashed its windscreen and bodywork. One of the bodyguards was seriously injured. Mr Karroubi’s other son, Ali, was arrested.

Opposition websites reported numerous clashes across the capital between the security forces and large crowds of opposition supporters chanting ‘Death to the Dictator’ and “Iranians – support us, support us”.

They claimed the security forces were using live ammunition, knives, teargas and paint-filled balls that would enable them to identify protesters later, that they were beating and arresting women as well as men and that they were smashing car windscreens.

The websites also reported that there were police trucks, water canon and squads of basiji militia deployed throughout the centre of the capital, with helicopters hovering overhead. One opposition supporter claimed: “Me and my friends who are standing next to me got a call from the Intelligence Ministry and they said that we have your address, number and email and everything else and if you continue what you are doing, we will arrest you on the spot.”

iran-feb-11-1
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

iran-feb-11-4
Women listen as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony
to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran February 11, 2010.

Unrest was also reported in Shiraz, Isfahan and other Iranian cities, but it is impossible to verify these reports, or to calculate how many opposition supporters have turned out, because the regime has imposed an almost total media blackout.

It has taken down the internet and text messaging systems. It has banned most foreign journalists from Iran,and accredited journalists inside the country are forbidden to report unauthorised events. They were instead taken this morning to watch the official celebrations in Azadi Square where the regime had amassed tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters. The opposition claimed they had been bussed in from outside the capital and given free food and drink.

This stage-managed throng heard President Ahmadinejad deliver a 75-minute, tub-thumping speech in which he announced that Iran had just produced its first stock of 20 per cent-enriched uranium and was now a “nuclear state”. He insisted, however, that Iran had no intention of building a nuclear bomb.

iran-feb-11-5
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
during a ceremony to mark the 31st anniversary
of the Islamic Revolution.

The state media focussed exclusively on the celebrations in Azadi Square, which were boycotted by the British ambassador, Simon Gass, and several of his European counterparts. State-controlled television broadcast Mr Ahmadinejad’s speech live but failed to mention the opposition protests.

The regime’s efforts to suppress today’s demonstrations began long before today. It has arrested hundreds of activists in recent days, executed two dissidents and sentenced ten others to death and jammed the BBC and other Persian-language television channels beamed into Iran from abroad. Sending e-mails or text messages to organise anti-government demonstrations has been made a criminal offence.

See Related: IRAN

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