Crowds Mark Iran’s Anniversary as Ahmadinejad Touts Nuclear Potential

BY Larisa Epatko  February 11, 2010 at 5:15 PM EST

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Flag-waving crowds rallied in central Tehran on Thursday to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which also prompted spin-off government protests that security forces worked to disperse.

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets or attended the state-run celebrations at Azadi (freedom) Square, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke about Iran’s nuclear program — a bone of contention with the Western world.

Ahmadinejad said Iran does not have any intention of building a nuclear weapon, but appeared to address Western leaders when he said: “The Iranian nation is brave enough that if one day we wanted to build nuclear bombs we would announce it publicly without being afraid of you,” quoted The New York Times.

He also said in the speech that was broadcast live on state television that the facility at Natanz has the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent purity — as announced earlier in the week — or 80 percent.

Iran previously enriched uranium to 3.5 percent but started enriching it to 20 percent to fuel a medical research reactor.

The increase in enrichment provoked further talk of sanctions against Iran. The Obama administration said Wednesday it was freezing the assets of four companies and a person with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps for their alleged involvement with spreading weapons of mass destruction.

On Thursday, riot police were deployed around the city to disperse large congregations of the opposition, wearing green scarves and wristbands. The Web site of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi claimed Basiji militiamen beat his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, until supporters formed a ring around her and took her away, according to the Associated Press.

One of the YouTube videos of protests posted by the Tehran Bureau, a partnership with PBS’ Frontline that tracks on-the-ground reporting in Iran, showed opposition members throwing rocks and chanting “down with the dictator”:

According to Muhammad Sahimi, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Southern California and a correspondent for the Tehran Bureau, the government might have succeeded in preventing large-scale demonstrations by the opposition, but if “the government must bring thousands of security forces and intelligence agents and the Basij militia just to console the crowd, that by itself is a defeat for the government indicating that unlike what the government says, the society is at least split among the pro-government and anti-government supporters.”

Hear more of his description of accounts of the day here:

 

The opposition has been using significant dates on the calendar to hold protests. View key events in Iran’s history dating back to 1921 in this timeline.

Tonight on the NewsHour, after a recap of the day’s events in Iran, three analysts discuss where the United States and other nations go now in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program: Iranian Reza Aslan, a professor at the University of California, Riverside; Flynt Leverett of the New America Foundation; and David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security.