December 7 marks Students Day, dating back to 1953 when three Tehran University students were killed by troops loyal to the shah of Iran. A few months earlier that year the CIA had helped engineer a coup in Iran to restore the shah, a king, to power. The three students were protesting the post-coup visit by then U.S. vice president Richard Nixon.
Leading up to the annual mobilization this year the regime arrested many student leaders and issued stern warnings that opposition rallies would not be tolerated. On December 5 police in Tehran arrested more than 20 women whose children were killed by security forces during opposition rallies this past summer, the New York Times reported. The mothers hold a vigil every Saturday in Laleh Park. Undeterred, activists planned protests for December 7 centered on university campuses, which the armed forces are prohibited from entering.
Agence France-Presse reported that a student group at Amir Kabir University in Tehran, calling itself Green students of Iranian universities, issued an online call to the general population to come out to join the student protests. Green was the color adopted by the presidential election campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June elections.
Demonstrations for democratic rights and against electoral fraud exploded after the government declared Ahmadinejad the winner and have continued since, particularly on national holidays.
Demonstrations on December 7 took place at eight universities in Tehran, as well as in a wide range of other cities, including Tabriz, capital of East Azerbaijan, home of the oppressed Azeri people. One thousand demonstrated at the university in Sanandaj and others rallied in Kermanshah, both Kurdish cities. A recent crackdown against fighters for Kurdish national rights, including the execution of one young Kurdish political prisoner, Ehsan Fatahian, has stirred wide opposition to the Ahmadinejad regime in that region. Videos posted on YouTube also showed an action at a girls high school in Isfahan.
The Wall Street Journal reported that thousands of ordinary citizens in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan were reported gathering outside university campuses chanting Dont be afraid; Dont be afraid; We stand with you, to the students inside. In the streets surrounding Tehran University many homes had their doors left open, ostensibly to shelter protestors escaping security forces, the paper said.
Marchers chanted slogans not only against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but also against Ali Khamenei, known as the Supreme Leader, and the most authoritative figure in the regime. Since 1979 it has been taboo to question, much less criticize, any action of the Supreme Leader. But Khamenei is a murdererhis rule is illegitimate was one of the chants December 7. Death to the oppressor, whether its the shah or the leader was another.
Other slogans called for freeing political prisoners. Roughly 80 of those arrested during demonstrations this past summer have received sentences of up to 15 years. Five have been sentenced to death.
Some protesters chanted separation of religion and politics, this is our demand. Many carried Iranian flags without the Islamic religious emblem that was added by the cleric-dominated capitalist government that succeeded the shah.
The actions were also marked by defiance of the Basij, a civilian militia under the direction of the countrys security forces, that is used to attack protesters. Students at one university waved bank notes at Basij thugs and yelled, Mercenaries, get lost!
Most of the Iranian press tried to dismiss the scope and militancy of the protests. The pro-government Fars New Agency reported that 7,000 backers of the government rallied at Tehran University in support of Khamenei while 50 rioters on the sidelines made trouble.
More than 200 were arrested on December 7, police announced, one quarter of them women. Irans chief prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohsen, announced there will be no tolerance of further opposition rallies and that demonstrators and their families would be punished.
The threats are unlikely to intimidate the increasingly confident opponents of the regime. Anti-government marches are expected in mid-December, a time of religious holidays, and during the annual celebrations of the 1979 revolution in February.
Iran parliament votes to end food, gas subsidies
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