Iran: opposition defy threats as crisis escalates

Defying official threats and an intimidating police and paramilitary presence, protesters again took to the streets of Tehran June 20—although security forces this time prevented them from gathering in large numbers by massively occupying all public plazas and thoroughfares. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared at a demonstration in south of the city and called for a general strike if he were to be arrested. “I am ready for martyrdom,” he told supporters.

Reuters reported that helicopters criss-crossed the city and ambulance sirens wailed into the night long after security forces used batons, water canons and tear gas to empty the streets of protesters. Meanwhile, state television aired repeated interviews with critics of the protests, urging Iranians to unite behind the government and suggesting only the West gained from Iran’s troubles.

Unconfirmed reports put the death toll as high as 150 on the seventh day of post-election protests. Sources at one Tehran hospital confirmed 19 deaths to CNN. A disturbing video showing a young woman known only as “Neda” purportedly shot in the streets of Tehran is making the rounds on YouTube and has fast become a a global rallying symbol for opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The UK’s Foreign Office said it had expressed concerns to an Iranian diplomat over comments by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his Friday prayers address at Tehran University that “evil” Britain had a hand in fomenting the unrest.

In Washington, President Barack Obama weighed in more forcefully that he had before, urging Tehran to “stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.” The statement added: “The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost.”

The House of Representatives voted 405-1 for a resolution in support of the Iranian protesters and condemning the repression. And the one dissenting vote was Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). (Reuters, CNN, June 21; NYT, LAT Babylon & Beyond blog, June 20; AP, Huffington Post, June 19)

In an ominous development, a bombing at the shrine of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini killed the attacker and wounded three pilgrims June 20, Iran’s official media reported. The IRNA news agency said a “terrorist attack” had struck at Khomeini’s mausoleum, on the southwest edge of the capital. Two other Iranian news agencies called the attack a suicide bombing. Eight were reported injured. (Reuters, June 20)

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