Hundreds of thousands across Iran yesterday marked the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution amid some of the highest tensions ever between Tehran and the US in the past four decades.
While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech in Tehran’s iconic Azadi Square denouncing the US, he also focused on encouraging the country to vote in upcoming parliamentary elections, even after officials disqualified thousands from running, including 90 current lawmakers.
Iran views high turnout as a vote of confidence in the country’s Shiite theocracy, something it wants to show as public anger still simmers over the country accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner in January that killed all 176 people onboard.
Tehran for days denied its forces shot down the passenger plane before admitting to it in the face of mounting Western pressure.
The incident also marred funeral processions that drew millions of mourners for Iranian major general Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
“We should not withdraw from the ballot boxes,” Rouhani called out to the thousands in the crowd, who rallied in the city in freezing winter weather. “The ballot boxes are our savior.”
There is also anger over Iran’s long-faltering economy, which has been hard hit by US sanctions. In November last year, protesters angered by Iran raising government-set gasoline prices by 50 percent blocked traffic in major cities and occasionally clashed with police.
Amnesty International says that more than 300 were killed in violent protests and a subsequent government crackdown.
Iran’s government did not release any death toll, although lawmakers said thousands were detained.
Rouhani called on voters to still turnout despite “possible complaints and criticism.”
“I beg you not to be passive,” he said.
State media said that the rallies took place in more than 5,000 cities, towns and districts all around Iran.
State television referred to this year’s anniversary as “Soleimani Dawn.”
His image could be seen on signs carried by demonstrators, as well as a large poster off to Rouhani’s side during his speech.
The Iranian president spent much of his speech praising Soleimani, calling him a great military commander and a “senior diplomat.”
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