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Story Publication logo June 17, 2009

Competing Demonstrations Divide Iran's Capital


Media file: 1619.jpg

After a hotly contested presidential election that resulted in street riots and a disputed claim to...


Iran's guardians of the Islamic revolution struck back Tuesday by sending thousands of supporters of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the streets and ordering foreign journalists to stay indoors.

But rival rallies quickly turned the capital into a schizophrenic panorama of competing demonstrations.

Backers of Mr. Ahmadinejad filled the screens of state-run television while supporters of rival candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi took over Vali Asr Avenue, the city's north-south spine, for the second consecutive day.

In a study in opposites, some districts appeared deserted while traffic gridlocked elsewhere.

State-run television also showed fires raging uncontrollably as it urged citizens to take to the streets to deal with "inciters."

"It's shocking that these louts are responding in this way to our presidential elections," one unnamed Ahmadinejad supporter said on television.

The threat of clashes between opposing throngs was averted when the Mousavi campaign moved to a northern district of Tehran and state-run television announced a partial recount of Friday's vote.

"The supreme leader bought himself a 10-day grace period," said Mohsen Fazai, a student attending the one anti-government protest. "If it doesn't fizzle out and the [demonstrations] and riots continue, that would change everything."

Tuesday marked day No. 4 of a crisis triggered by Friday's presidential elections, when authorities declared a landslide victory for Mr. Ahmadinejad that belied widespread expectations that Mr. Mousavi would either unseat the incumbent or force a runoff election.

In a repeat of Monday's catharsis, a second enormous protest bisected the Iranian capital from Vali Asr Square to the offices of its state-run broadcaster, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

"We came down to get our vote back and show that we didn't vote for this man [Mr. Ahmadinejad]," said Yusef, a journalist who would only give his first name for fear of reprisals by government security forces.

Thousands of pro-Mousavi demonstrators swathed themselves in mourning black and marched silently, holding up roses in their hands for the memory of those killed in Monday night's clashes outside the headquarters of a paramilitary militia.

Employees of IRIB clustered around the windows of their eight-story building, seemingly deep in thought as they looked down at the sea of victory signs aimed at them.

Women with chic green scarves, wrapped guerrilla-style around their heads, walked alongside young men in soccer shirts and stiffly gelled hair.

Tehran's silent marchers held pieces of paper above their heads printed with slogans such as "Liar is Enemy of God," "Where is my vote?" and "We wrote Mousavi, they read Ahmadi."

Next to a canal carrying ice melt down from the brown mountains looming over Tehran, a man stood as he stretched out the front page of the reformist Voice of Justice newspaper in his hands. "The Green Wave Goes to the End" read the headline.

Next to him stood another man, holding a printout of pictures downloaded from the Internet showing riot police beating women.

"What you're seeing is the result of 30 years of pressure and strangling," said Hossein Rahmati, a 68-year-old carpet seller wearing an old-fashioned 1980s suit to attend the march. "Iran is like a dam about to explode."

As darkness fell, an echo of the 1979 revolution unfolded as rioters gathered to engage in what threatens to become a nightly pastime.

But unlike evenings during the revolution, when rioters could melt into the crowds moving around the city until late at night, the streets of this teeming city of 17 million were populated only by protesters, police and the ideological militias roaring through with the tools of their trade: motorbikes, religious banners and clubs.

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