Clashes in Iran revolution anniversary

Arrests made in Tehran

Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad announced Thursday that Iran had produced a higher grade of nuclear
fuel, while protesters clashed with security forces as huge crowds gathered in
Tehran for a showdown between the government and the opposition on the 31st anniversary
of the Islamic revolution.

Mr. Ahmadinejad made his
declaration that Iran had produced its “first stock” of the 20 percent enriched
uranium to a crowd that had massed to celebrate the anniversary, also telling
the crowd that Iran was now a “nuclear state,” reports Agence France-Presse.

Iran announced only Monday that it
would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, saying the nuclear fuel would be
used for a medical reactor. Fuel for nuclear power plants is enriched only to a
3.5 percent purity level, while nuclear weapons require uranium enriched to 90
percent. According to The New York Times, experts say that once Iran was able
to enrich uranium to the 20 percent level, it could “theoretically also move relatively quickly toward the manufacture of weapons-grade
fuel.”

Tehran’s bold announcement comes as
the US has prioritized putting new sanctions on Iran. While Russia appears
newly open to the idea, China, another permanent member of the UN Security
Council, has blocked that effort by voicing its opposition to sanctions on
Iran.

But Israeli newspaper Haaretz,
quoting UN sources, reports that China is now unlikely to use its veto power to
block sanctions and a resolution tightening sanctions is likely
to be approved
. A Reuters analysis also suggests that China may be leaning
toward bowing to Western pressure on sanctions, based on its
recent silence on the matter.

About 1 kilometer from where Ahmadinejad spoke to government supporters Thursday,
opposition protesters clashed with security forces. AFP reports that police and
plainclothes security agents attacked the vehicles of opposition leaders
Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi, and that some of their relatives, as well
as the granddaughter of Iran’s revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini, were arrested. Police also fired teargas at protesters, the paper reported,
based on accounts from an opposition website.

The Los Angeles Times quotes a news
website reporting that security forces had fired on a crowd of protesters. Independent confirmation
was difficult because foreign media were kept from the site of the protests.

After noon, a witness reported
clashes along Enghelab Street east of Azadi Square, where security forces began
arresting people.

Security forces on side streets
were beating people, the witness said, with a dozen or so Basiji militiamen
deployed at each intersection and uniformed security forces trying in vain to
disperse crowds chanting, “Death to the dictator.”

Clashes also broke out around Vali
Asr Square, where a motorcycle was torched. Military helicopters hovered over
the area.

The Christian Science Monitor
reported Wednesday that the anniversary rally would be a showdown that could shape the future of Iran. Opposition
protesters have challenged Iran’s government since weeks of chaos last summer,
when the government violently cracked down on those protesting the results of
Iran’s presidential election, which they claim was marred by fraud.

“It’s going to be a big show of
force, a big competition between the two sides over who can rule this day – and
who can lay claim to the legacy of the revolution,” says Ahmad Sadri, an Iran
specialist at Lake Forest College in Illinois.

At issue are fundamental questions
that have been fought over in the streets, in the prisons, and from the pulpits
of Iran for eight months. At stake is who are the true heirs of Iran’s
revolution and its first promises of “Independence, freedom, [and] Islamic
Republic.”

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Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (left) being greeted by his supporters in Tehrān, 1979.

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