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After 10 Days of Peace, Tension Returns to the Streets of Tehran

July 9, 2009 at 6:15 PM EST
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Marking the 10 year anniversary of a violent crackdown against student demonstrators, Iranians returned to the streets of Tehran Thursday to protest a disputed presidential vote. Kwame Holman reports.
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JIM LEHRER: And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: sharing software and servers; the fighting in Afghanistan; and poet Jim Harrison.

That follows the still-simmering tensions in Tehran. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

KWAME HOLMAN: After more than 10 days of relative but restive calm, protestors were back in the streets of Tehran today, nearly a month after the disputed election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

With a virtual media blackout in place, amateur video posted on YouTube and similar Web sites showed demonstrations in the capital. The hallmark cries of the Islamic revolution — shouts of “Death to the dictator” and “God is great” — once again filled the air.

Today also marked the 10th anniversary of a violent crackdown on student protests at Tehran University. Authorities warned of a crushing response to unrest, and again today riot police and militia dispersed crowds.

A state-sponsored TV network described the scene.

NEWS REPORTER: Police used tear gas in one locality to disperse the crowd. Security has been tight in the streets of downtown Tehran Thursday, but onlookers did gather in numbers to watch the demonstrations.

KWAME HOLMAN: Other reports said today’s demonstrations attracted a few thousand people. That is much smaller than the gatherings of hundreds of thousands last month in support of opposition candidates, especially Mir Hossein Mousavi, who said the election was rigged in Ahmadinejad’s favor.

Last night, the Iranian president said the accusations of fraud were baseless.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, president,Iran (through translator): In the recount of the vote, no fault was discovered, and basically those who had claims couldn’t even provide one document as a proof of fraud in the election. The whole nation understood this, although we don’t expect ordinary people to provide proof, but it is not acceptable from those who claim to be politicians.

Obama speaks on Iran

KWAME HOLMAN: On Monday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lashed out forcefully at his perceived external adversaries.

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, supreme leader, Iran (through translator): Leaders of arrogant countries and interlopers interfering in the affairs of the Islamic republic should realize this, that even if the Iranian nation has differences among them, when you and the enemies of the Iranian nation come forward, they get united and stand against you with a strong fist.

KWAME HOLMAN: Despite the defiant stand of Ahmadinejad and his benefactor, Khamenei, President Obama recently has reiterated his intention to pursue diplomacy with the Islamic republic.

But Mr. Obama acknowledged that the dubious election and the state's violent reaction to the ensuing protests have complicated matters. He spoke on CNN on Tuesday.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: We have to wait and see how the dust settles. Right now, what we have to do is to continue to speak out and bear witness to the fact that the Iranian people need to be treated with justice and fairness.

But it certainly complicates our efforts, because there's the possibility that those who are now in power in Iran choose to retrench and dig in as opposed to open up.

KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday, Mr. Obama and the other leaders of the G-8 summit in Italy issued a statement deploring the post-election violence in Iran.