Thousands of protesters streamed down avenues of Tehran on Thursday, chanting “death to the dictator” and defying security forces who fired tear gas and charged with batons, witnesses said. The first opposition foray into the streets in nearly two weeks aimed to revive mass demonstrations that were crushed in Iran’s post-election turmoil.
Iranian authorities had promised tough action to prevent the marches, which supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have been planning for days. Heavy police forces deployed at key points in the city ahead of the marches, and Tehran’s governor vowed to “smash” anyone who heeded the demonstration calls.
In some places, police struck hard. Security forces chased after protesters, beating them with clubs on Valiasr Street, Tehran’s biggest north-south avenue, witnesses said.
Men and women dashed away, rubbing their eyes in pain as police fired tear gas, in footage aired on state-run Press TV.
But the clampdown was not total. At Tehran University, a line of police blocked a crowd from reaching the gates of the campus, but then did not move to disperse them as the protesters chanted “Mir Hossein” and “death to the dictator,” witnesses said.
“Police, protect us,” some of the demonstrators chanted, asking the forces not to move against them.
The protesters appeared to reach several thousand, but their full numbers were difficult to determine, since marches took place in several parts of the city at once and mingled with passers-by. There was no immediate word on arrests or injuries.
It did not compare to the hundreds of thousands who joined the marches that erupted after the June 12 presidential election, protesting what the opposition said were fraudulent results. But it was a show of determination despite a crackdown that has cowed protesters, who have not held a significant rally for the past 11 days.
Onlookers and pedestrians often gave their support. In side streets near the university, police were chasing young activists, and when they caught one, passers-by chanted “let him go, let him go,” until the policemen released him. Elsewhere, residents let fleeing demonstrators slip into their homes to elude police, witnesses said.