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Middle east

Opposition looking to hijack celebrations of Islamic revolution

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-02-10

Three decades after Ayatollah Khomeini's return from exile, Iran's Islamic Republic is in the midst of its biggest political crisis yet, with opposition supporters threatening to stage demonstrations on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

Iran's anti-government opposition looks set to seize on yet another state-sponsored event on Thursday as the country prepares to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution with nationwide celebrations.

Calls for fresh revolution

More on Iran history

The Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, rode to power in February 1979 following a popular uprising that overthrew the Western-backed Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Khomeini replaced the monarchy with a theocracy under the guardianship of religious clerics.

Freedom and independence were proclaimed the central pillars of the new Islamic regime, but Khomenei kept ultimate authority for himself. Known as Iran's Supreme Leader, he ruled the country until his death in 1989.

The February 11 celebrations, which mark the day the Shah fell in 1979, have traditionally been a festive occasion and an opportunity for Iranian leaders to showcase popular support for the regime.

But this year, the regime must contend with opposition protesters who continue to reject the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a disputed presidential poll in June 2009.

Opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the figureheads of what has become known as the "Green Movement", have refused to take the fight off the streets despite a brutal repression. They have urged their supporters to turn out en masse, prompting the authorities to warn of a crackdown should the celebrations be hijacked by anti-government protests.

Last December, eight people were killed on the holy day of Ashura and hundreds more were jailed as the authorities battled opposition protesters. The deadly crackdown, coming on Shiite Muslims' most sacred day, sparked outrage and underscored the depth of Iran's current crisis.

A 'punch' to the West

The authorities accuse the demonstrators of siding with Iran's enemies abroad and of seeking to topple the Islamic Republic. They want Thursday's anniversary to be a show of national unity, as in past years. For Khomeini's all-powerful successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the day will deliver a stunning "punch" to the "arrogant" powers.

Khamenei -- who has the final say on all key issues -- supports Ahmadinejad, and has dismissed allegations of fraud in the election. He blames the West for the post-election unrest and continuing dissent, which he slams as "sedition".

As the anniversary approaches, the Internet has slowed and text messaging services have been disrupted. The government is blaming technical glitches, but others cry foul.

With foreign media banned from covering the demonstrations, the opposition has been exploiting the Internet and text messaging on mobile phones to organise rallies and spread news and pictures about the protests.


Date created : 2010-02-09


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