JUDY WOODRUFF: A sea of people filled the streets of Iran’s capital today in two separate mass rallies. Crowds of opposition supporters turned out to compete with pro-government demonstrations.
Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News narrates our lead story report.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The official Jerusalem Day rally on the streets of Tehran, the crowd shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” This is the Iranian government’s annual bid for world leadership in fighting the Jewish state and championing the cause of the Palestinians, but this year, the Iranian national flag was replaced in much of the city by the green banner of the opposition.
Journalists weren’t allowed to film this, so some of the tens of thousands of demonstrators used their mobile phones to show how they hijacked the official event to protest against the government. They shouted, “Not for Gaza, not for Lebanon. We will die for Iran.”
Hundreds, maybe thousands of Iranian opposition leaders and protestors have been imprisoned since what they see as a rigged election in June. Street demonstrations have been suppressed since mid-July, but today’s huge turnout shows that the opposition movement hasn’t been quashed.
In a speech ahead of Friday prayers, President Ahmadinejad repeated his well-worn anti-Israel rhetoric, once again denying the truth of the holocaust.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, president, Iran (through translator): The pretext for the creation of the Zionist regime is false. It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim.
LINDSEY HILSUM: As the crowd roared ritual approval, he tried to identify his political opponents with Western countries which in his view unconditionally back Israel.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Western countries support Israeli crimes. But when it comes to countries like us, where a 100 percent free election was held, they find someone to shout through his mouth that freedom in Iran has been damaged.
LINDSEY HILSUM: The main opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, appeared at the demonstration. He was apparently forced to leave by pro-government crowds. Another opposition figure, Mehdi Karroubi, was mobbed by supporters. Their ally, former President Khatami, was apparently attacked, his clothes ripped, and his turban pulled off.
Military helicopters flew over the capital. The crowds booed. The size of anti-government protests today shows that Iran has changed, but President Ahmadinejad has not.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Both President Obama and Iranian President Ahmadinejad will be at the United Nations in New York next week. But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said today that she does not expect Mr. Obama to meet with the Iranian leader.