Wednesday, March 15, 2006

IRAN'S FESTIVAL OF FIRE

In the run-up to the annual Festival of Fire, things have been getting a little edgy in Iran to say the least. Several stories from Iran Focus caught my eye today.

Firstly, police have been firing tear-gas at students protesting the burial of three "unidentified martyrs" on their campus:
Police fired tear-gas and used force on Monday to disperse protesting students at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, eye-witnesses reported.

The disturbances broke out after hundreds of students tried to prevent the burial of three “unidentified martyrs” on the university campus. The students, many of them women, carried placards against the takeover of universities by Islamist groups affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards. These include the paramilitary Bassij Daneshjui and Jihad Daneshgahi.

The protestors chanted “students would rather die than be humiliated” as the whistled and clapped their hands. Students were soon joined by young people from outside the university, and a chorus of anti-government slogans began.

Security forces resorted to force to disperse the students, and when the protestors put up a strong resistance, they fired tear-gas. The students responded by throwing stones and the windows of several faculty buildings were broken.

In the ensuing violence, several students were beaten up. The chancellor of the university, an associate of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had backed the plan to bury the “unknown martyrs” in the university, was booed and jolted by the protesting students.

In the wake of Monday’s student protests in Sharif University, a government-organised campaign is targeting “seditious elements in the university who are manipulated by the enemies of the Islamic Republic”. Government-owned newspapers on Tuesday gave much prominence to statements by ultra-conservative associations and groups in condemnation of the protesting students.
Makes SOAS seem rather tame in comparison.

There's also a report of youths in Tehran setting fire to pictures of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.


From the same story:
Iran’s main opposition group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK), has issued an appeal to people across the country to take part in the celebrations on the night and turn it into an anti-government protest.
The authorities are clearly worried. According to IranPressNews:
The streets of cities all around Iran from Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Ardebil, Kermanshah, Mahabad, Baaneh, Mash'had, etc. are filled with people and in places such as the Gowhardasht neighborhood of the Tehran-suburb of Karadj have taken over the regime's police headquarters in that area and have set that building on fire. In Tehran alone, the 600 mobilized 18-wheeler paddy wagons that were put in place for the March 8th commemoration of International Women's Day have been kept in place in order to facilitate arrests and detentions. It is reported that the regime has mobilized Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinians Basijis against the people in the streets.

According to ILNA, the regime-run news agency, the regime fearing the celebrations, has covered the skies of Tehran and all other big cities in Iran with helicopters, making traffic an excuse.

Revolutionary Guard Sojedi-Nia the director of the Motor Vehicles department of the regime expressed alarm and fear that the traffic jams and gridlock stemming from the Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations will require constant helicopter surveillance. Also 30 "secret" bases will be controlling the situation from their posts. Also, the Ministry of Education and Training received orders to close all schools in Tehran. The director of public relations in this ministry also announced that the disciplinary and security forces of the regime handed down these specific orders.

The regime fearing the worst and attempting to maximize control and oppression, has ordered that all cellular telephones and internet connections in several provinces and all major cities be completely shut down and blocked.
Also:
Iranian authorities have imposed a de facto martial law in several volatile cities in the north-western province of Kurdistan as restive youths used the occasion of Iran’s traditional “fire festival” to hold anti-government protests, residents told Iran Focus by telephone on Tuesday.

Agents of the paramilitary police, the Revolutionary Guards, and plainclothes agents of the secret police, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, moved in to take control of the cities to limit unrest as people took to the streets.

There is a heavy police presence at every major junction, square, and highway in and around the cities of Sanandaj, Piranshahr, and Mahabad and security forces are attempting to arrest any individual seeking to take part in protests.

During the festival, known as ‘chaharshanbeh souri’ – literally, Feast of Wednesday – people jump over bonfires to “drive away evil”. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, however, Iran’s theocratic leaders have made strenuous efforts to stamp out the festivities, but to no avail. In recent years, there have been extensive clashes between festive crowds and the security forces deployed to prevent street celebrations.
Indeed. I remember it getting quite feisty about this time last year. And nary a peep from our media.
According to received reports from various cities in Iran, today which marks the first celebration of the Iranian New Year’s Festival of Fire was met with celebrations as well as huge protests and demonstrations against the Islamic regime of Iran. The protestors chanted: “We need no Sheikh or Mullah, we curse YOU - RUHOLLAH!”

A report from Tehran: Young celebrants today set scarecrows in the likeness of various Mullahs, such as Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Sharoudi, Jannati, etc. on fire in the streets. They cried out slogans such as: “Referendum, referendum, this is the people’s dictum.”

In various parts of the capitol, celebrations and parties rage on. As a part of this celebration which is held on the very last Tuesday night of the year, dry bundles of bramble and shrubbery are set on fire and people jump over them. This is in order to purge their spirits of all the sins and tribulations of the passing year, in order to start the new year, with a pure heart. This is an ancient Persian (Zoroastrian) tradition, one that the Mullahs have done their best to eradicate since their takeover in 1979.

An eyewitness reported that despite severe crackdowns by the Revolutionary Guards and storm troopers, people bravely came out of their homes to celebrate. The sound of bursting firecrackers (which is a part of the celebrations), fireworks, toy rockets, confetti and various other celebratory trajectiles can be heard all over Tehran and smoke has filled the streets.

In one of the grassy knolls, in a suburban area of Tehran, large bonfires were lit and people danced around it and continued chanting the various slogans in defiance of the Mullahs and their henchmen. It is reported that the local Mullahs in various areas of several areas have locked themselves in their mosques fearing the crowds who continually and collectively shout out their slogans.

In several other parts of Tehran, revolutionary guards who have blocked off roads in order to stop cars carrying passengers of various groups from joining others. However people have begun parking their cars and have joined their fellow celebrants on foot. The guards however have become frightened by the force of the people. In this specific area several non-Iranian journalists were also present with their film crews, reporting.

In another area of the city people took to setting the French flag on fire while chanting: “Europe is finished and so are their Mullahs.” OR “Bush, Bush, where is Bush?” (In Persian this rhymes: Bush, Bush, kush, kush!).
These are the people our governments have recently realised we should be supporting to promote internal regime change in Iran. Let's see if we can keep them to their word.



(Hat-tip for the C&F classic goes to Atlas for reminding me of it, in a story about the Iran Freedom Concert this Saturday at Harvard.)

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