Riot police have used teargas to break up opposition protests in Tehran, as huge crowds staged an anti-US rally to mark the storming of the American embassy by students 30 years ago.
Witnesses said the clashes occurred at Haft-e-Tir Square in the heart of the capital, where several hundred opposition supporters had gathered mid-morning to stage a demonstration.
Riot police roared in on motorcycles and fired teargas at the protesters, who were chanting “Death to the dictator.”
When they refused to disperse, police moved in with batons, beating and arresting dozens of people as groups of pro-government hardliners stood by chanting “Death to America.”
Opposition website Mowzcamp.com reported that opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi was among the protesters at the square but left quickly after he and his supporters came under attack by the hardliners.
On many street corners and side roads away from Haft-e-Tir Square, opposition supporters numbering several thousand in all gathered in small groups, witnesses said.
Moussavi supporters unite
Staging brief demonstrations during which they chanted “Death to the dictator,” and “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein” – in praise of main opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi – the mainly young protesters quickly moved on to new sites when police tried to disperse them.
Witnesses said the entire city has become a stage for “cat and mouse games”, between authorities on motorbikes and young protesters.
State news agency IRNA said protesters set fire to rubbish bins and attacked a bus, smashing its windows.
It said two policemen were injured in the clashes and hospitalised.
Meanwhile, state-owned English-language Press TV showed footage of the crowds of protesters as well as police on motorcycles but not of the clashes.
Protests since June
Since June, opposition supporters have been staging protests at every opportunity in Tehran against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a presidential vote they claim was massively rigged.
About a kilometre away, outside the former US embassy complex dubbed the Den of Spies, thousands of people joined a rally, chanting slogans such as “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
They also smashed up posters they had brought with them of the American Uncle Sam symbol and chanted “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader” – a reference to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
By mid-afternoon the streets of Tehran were calm again as people who took part in the various rallies and protests went home, witnesses said. However, a large security force presence remained on standby in the city centre.
Wednesday’s anniversary, which has turned into a cornerstone of the Islamic regime, marks the capture by radical Islamist students of the US embassy compound on November 4, 1979 – just months after the Islamic revolution toppled the US-backed shah.
The students, who took 52 American diplomats hostage and held them for 444 days, said they were responding to Washington’s refusal to hand over the deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The two countries broke diplomatic ties after the event, which have yet to be restored.
Obama weighs in
US President Barack Obama, in a statement marking the anniversary of the event that sparked decades of hostility between America and Iran, urged Tehran to look to the future rather than the past.
“We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for,” he said.
“It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity and
justice for its people.”
US-Iranian relations deteriorated even further during the tenure of former US president George W Bush, who lumped Iran into an “axis of evil” along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
During his first term as president, Ahmadinejad stepped up Tehran’s anti-US tirade.
Washington has made diplomatic overtures towards Tehran under Bush successor Obama, but Khamenei said Iran still distrusts the United States.
“Every time they have a smile on their face, they are hiding a dagger behind their back,” he said on Tuesday.
The anniversary comes at a time when Washington is backing a sensitive nuclear fuel deal for Tehran brokered by the UN atomic watchdog.