Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Monavar Khalaj – FT.com February 14, 2011
Iranian security forces clashed with protesters as hundreds of thousands marched in Tehran on Monday in the biggest rally by the opposition Green Movement for more than a year.Police used teargas in an attempt to disperse the vast numbers as opposition supporters took to the streets to express solidarity with the recent uprisings in north Africa.
The crowd – whose size far exceeded the predictions of most analysts – assembled despite threats by the Revolutionary Guard in recent days to crush any gathering. At least 20 politicians and journalists were arrested before the rally.
Tehran backed the earlier protests in Tunisia and Egypt, describing them as an Islamic movement against western-backed dictators and likening them to the 1979 revolution in Iran.
However, facing the most significant opposition unrest since the brutal crackdown on demonstrations in the wake of Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential elections, the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, president, banned Monday’s rally.
Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, two prominent opposition leaders who ran in the disputed presidential poll and who have urged Iranians to back the Middle East pro-democracy movement, were placed under house arrest on Monday to prevent their joining the demonstration.
A statement on Mr Moussavi’s website called on protesters to show their anger through silence – a call largely observed by marchers along the 10km route from Imam Hossein to Azadi squares in an effort to avoid provoking violence.
Witnesses said the marchers largely avoided chanting slogans, but whenever cries of “Death to the dictator” or “God is great” rang out, security forces were quick to arrest or attack protesters with batons. Riot police and security officers also blocked some junctions in an attempt to scatter demonstrators.
It was not clear how many people were detained or injured. Some opposition websites said several hundred had been arrested.
The Islamic regime called the rally a conspiracy to revive the Green Movement. Iranian leaders accuse western governments – notably the US – of trying to topple or undermine the Islamic regime by encouraging street protests.
Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard, said at the weekend that “western spy agencies [would] try to find a retarded person to commit self-immolation and liken it to the developments in Tunisia and Egypt”.
However, opposition supporters were undeterred and used the internet – including blogs and Facebook and Twitter posts – to rally demonstrators.
Mr Moussavi’s website said the arrests and restrictions on opposition leaders were the result of “the ruling autocrats’ weakness”.
Note that the above video doesn’t attempt any angles that would allow viewer to gauge the size of the protests or the numbers involved. No stationary shots, no steady panning shots, not even an attempt to hold the camera or phone higher. In fact the camera is largely kept low: almost as if they are trying to disguise the real size of the protests. Ed.