In the capital, Tehran, crowds waving Iranian flags and portraits of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s leader, walked towards Azadi (Freedom) Square in a government-sponsored rally where foreign media were closely monitored. Similar events are expected to take place nationwide on Sunday, especially in large provincial capitals such as Mashhad, Isfahan, Shiraz and Kerman.
Marchers chanted “Death to Israel!” and “Death to America!”
In a speech on the square, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained defiant about his country’s developing nuclear program, considered a threat by Israel and the United States especially, but which Iran contends is for energy purposes. On February 7 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the authority to authorize any negotiations, had rebuffed a US call for dialogue. Ahmadinejad seemed to walk that back a bit.
“You cannot point a gun at the Iranian nation and then expect them to have negotiations with you,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech, carried live on state television. “Talks should not be used as a lever to impose one’s opinions …” he added. “If you stop pointing the gun at the Iranian nation, I will negotiate myself with you.”
In February 1979, Khomeini returned to Iran from exile in France to lead the revolution that deposed the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought in the Islamic Republic.
In the 34 years since the revolution, Iran has become increasingly isolated from other countries in the Middle East, as well as Western Europe and the United States. Iran is a successful petroleum exporter but the economy has otherwise struggled, in part owing to strict sanctions imposed to discourage the country’s nuclear program. There have also been reports of significant human rights abuses against women and the gay and lesbian community.
mkg/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)