Widespread Clashes in Tehran
13 Jun 2009 19:22
Photo/Hamid Janipour By JASON REZAIAN in Tehran | 13 June 2009
[TEHRAN BUREAU] The polling stations had been closed a little over two hours. Although we were told that results likely wouldn't come in until late Saturday or even Sunday, a landslide victory was declared for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not long after midnight. No one, however, besides perhaps his staunchest supporters seem to trust the numbers. "What happened?" people started to ask one another as a general feeling of confusion took over.
Tehran, a vast city that had been filled with hope and anticipation just a day earlier, was now partially paralyzed by exhaustion, telecommunication blockages and a sense of disbelief.
Text messaging services, so much a part of Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign, have been blocked nationwide since early Friday morning. The Internet is running at a snail's pace. Rumors about Mousavi's whereabouts and how he will react to the results have been swirling.
From a logical standpoint, the results seem dubious at best. Ahmadinejad is reported to have received well over 60% of the vote to just over 30% for Mousavi. Given Iran's high population of Azeri Turks
(Mousavi's ethnicity), the number of people in major cities campaigning in support of him, and perhaps most importantly the vast number of women who were mobilized by Mousavi's outspoken wife, Zahra
Ravarnard, the race seemed to be a lot tighter.
After a campaign period filled with public interest and ugly accusations made between the candidates, it remains somewhat unclear how everyday Iranians will respond over the next few weeks, but if the
events of the past several hours are any indication, it may be a violent road ahead. Simply put, there are extreme differences between the visions and aspirations of Iran held by supporters of Mousavi and
Ahmadinejad, and the schism is growing wider.
The feeling of dejection hung in the air for most of Saturday. Due to the communication blockages, spontaneous street demonstrations early in the day were small and quickly broken up by riot police on motorcycle.
As the reality settled in, people began taking to the streets en masse around 5pm. On the approach to Fatemi Square, where the Interior Ministry is located, I could see that the entire roundabout had been
closed to car traffic. About 200 riot police waited, ready in the middle of the square. I headed down an alley just off the square where protesters had created a blockade of flaming garbage bins.
They pushed aside a bin, opening a path, and rushed forward. Simultaneously the baton-toting police charged them. The protesters hurled rocks and the police responded by beating all that couldn't
escape into one of the connecting alleys.
Citizens, nearly all on the side of the protesters, left their front gates open just a crack to allow quick entrance to those fleeing the police.
Catching our breath in someone's driveway, I asked a man in his mid thirties if he'd witnessed anything like this before. "Over the past two weeks," he told me, "between the debates and what was said, the
numbers of people in the street last week, and the violence now? No. I've never seen anything like this."
Amidst the anger, there was still a sense of excitement and exuberance earlier as it seems the nation is releasing frustrations that have been bottled up for decades.
Just south, above Valiasr Sq., one of Tehran's major commercial hubs, lines of protesters blocked traffic on the city's most used street. They chanted "Death to the Dictator!" In every direction small groups,
usually four or five, congregated to discuss what they'd seen, sometimes dispersing when the police began to move.
A woman, who was trying to cross the avenue, was shoved onto the sidewalk by a member of the Basij, who spat at her: "We will kill those of you who come into the street!" As she walked away she remarked in disbelief, "They steal our vote and then they talk to us like that?"
Chaos ensued again, as people fled in all directions. The protesters shouted, "Death to the Dictator!" charging, while the Basij fired back with "God is great!" attacking the crowds with their batons.
I approached an elderly gentleman who seemed riveted, but disgusted by the scene in the street in front of him.
"I've seen violence like this before," he remarked, "What can one expect when you disrespect the people. This is a coup d'etat. After blatantly cheating the people they won't be able to turn this off."
I'm receiving reports that these sorts of riots are taking place all over Tehran.
The regime suddenly finds itself in a very difficult position. In the past when Iran has faced threats from outside its own borders it's ratcheted the pressure against dissent within the country, blocking
websites, closing newspapers and using the Basij to harass the public.
This time around the pressure is coming from all angles, both internationally and among the population, as well as unheard of fights among the various political factions. And this time, the world is
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