Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of Tehran again on Wednesday to protest against the government and what they believe was a stolen presidential election last June.
Wednesday marked the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The government traditionally uses the anniversary to promote popular enmity toward the United States.
But this year, much of the hostility of the crowds was turned against Iran's Islamic leaders, and there were sharp clashes with police.
Video of the demonstrations has flooded the Internet. Thousands of people marched in numerous rallies all over Tehran and in some smaller cities across the country. They chanted the now-familiar slogan, "Down with the dictator," which could mean opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or both of them.
But there were also many new messages, some heard during a loud and boisterous march at Tehran University. One was: "Khamenei is a murderer — his rule is null and void." Video pictures posted on numerous Web sites show demonstrators tearing down banners with Khamenei's picture, others trampling his picture underfoot.
There were also messages aimed at the United States, such as "Obama, Obama, you are either with them or with us" — a message that defied the purpose of the pro-government rally Wednesday.
And some in the crowds picked up on the ongoing tension over Iran's nuclear activities by chanting: "A green and blooming Iran does not need an atom bomb." Green is the symbolic color of the opposition movement.
The Nuclear Issue
Until now, Iran's nuclear program has not been a significant component of the opposition's message.
Iran's leaders are resisting a compromise on the nuclear issue that emerged in talks with the United States and Europe a month ago — an issue Khamenei addressed on Tuesday. In remarks meant to commemorate the taking of the embassy, Khamenei was uncompromising in his attitude toward the United States.
"Recently, they made seemingly conciliatory comments," Khamenei said of the U.S. "But whenever they smile, when we carefully look at the situation, we notice that they are hiding a dagger behind their back."
"They have not given up their threats," Khamenei added. "Their intention has not changed."
During a pro-government rally Wednesday at the former U.S. Embassy building, hard-line politician Gholam Ali Haddad Adel dared the U.S. to impose more sanctions on Iran.
"Our nation is ready for sacrifice," said Haddad Adel. "Your sanctions, as has been the case over the past 30 years, will help us make progress. Our nation will stand on its own feet."
Still, it seems that even some of the hostage takers of 1979 are now against the government. Mansour Farhang, who was a diplomat and initially a supporter of the Islamic Revolution, said many of the hostage takers now count themselves among the political opposition in Iran.
"Two more of the hostage takers, they are in jail today awaiting trial. A significant number of the students who took over the embassy look back and see themselves being used as tools of grabbing power in Iran," he said.
In recent weeks, some analysts had begun to write off the Iranian opposition as a spent force. But Wednesday, it was clear that the opposition has not disappeared or melted away — despite warnings from the police not to march. Riot police and street militia were out in force to disperse them.
The police resorted to the now-familiar tactic of using motorcycles to drive into the crowds. The cycles are equipped with backfiring engines that sound like gunshots. The police also employed tear gas, stun guns and truncheons, and there are some reports that shots were fired at the crowds. The government also disrupted Internet access, mobile phone service and text messaging.
Despite the efforts, the opposition's display Wednesday was probably the largest in Tehran since the marches in the immediate aftermath of last June's disputed presidential election.