Call for Anti-Government Protest Goes Unheeded in Iran

A planned demonstration in which Iranian teachers and workers were to join reformists in an antigovernment protest failed to materialize on Saturday, apparently the result of intimidation and a large police presence.

Two Iranian opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, had called Thursday for workers and teachers to join the reformists in a broad-based coalition.

The call went unheeded on Saturday, analysts said, largely because of government intimidation.

But the lack of action may also reflect a failure of the opposition leaders to win over workers and teachers, who have their own grievances, to the antigovernment cause. And it raised questions about the ability of the opposition to mobilize a mass protest planned for June 12, the anniversary of Iran’s disputed presidential election.

Across Tehran on Saturday, major intersections that had been filled with protesters last summer were filled instead with police officers in riot gear, witnesses said. Helicopters hovered over Azadi Square and Azadi Street, where the Ministry of Labor is located and workers had been expected to gather.

“There were groups of young men in military clothes at the corner of every alley standing next to black vans,” said a Tehran resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The black vans are used by security forces to take protesters to detention centers.

In addition to the police presence, the government’s recent moves to execute political dissidents may have scared off potential protesters. The Supreme Court upheld two death sentences last week while lower courts have ordered capital punishment for 11 protesters. Many demonstrators from earlier street protests remain in jail, and there have been reports of torture.

An aide to Mr. Karroubi, however, said the government’s clampdown indicated that it was the government that feared the protesters rather than the other way around.

“I don’t think it matters if people stage a protest when the government takes extraordinary measures to put forces at every single corner in the capital,” said the aide, Mojtaba Vahedi, who has been in exile in the United States since last summer. “This shows that the government fears that without those forces there might be protests all over the capital. That is a demonstration of the dissent as well.”

Workers had pledged to stage protests on Saturday, and teachers had said they would demonstrate on Teachers’ Day on Sunday. Workers’ and teachers’ groups have often demonstrated on May 1, International Workers’ Day, but apart from the reformists.

There were reports of protests in the cities of Qazvin, Shiraz and Tabriz on the opposition Web site Kaleme, but those reports could not be independently verified. A picture posted on several blogs showed a group of recently fired workers outside the governor’s office of Shiraz holding a banner that said “Congratulations on your unemployment.”

Authorities had warned that they would prevent protests. The supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cautioned workers in a meeting on Wednesday “not to be used as a political leverage” by “the enemy.”

Workers and teachers have long complained of low wages, lack of benefits and the effects of economic mismanagement on their lives. On the BBC Persian service on Saturday, workers called in during a live program to complain about lack of independent unions that could address their demands, like unemployment and inflation.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/world/middleeast/02iran.html

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