22 Bahman Protests: Latest Updates, Video From Iran

The Iranian opposition movement took to the streets Thursday in an attempt to co-opt the government's celebration of the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. Hundreds of thousands of government supporters gathered in Tehran to mark the anniversary, while police are reported to have clashed with protesters in several sites around the city.

We will be following the latest news from Iran throughout the day. You can also find in-depth coverage of the protests here, here, here and here.

Current AP story is at the bottom. Latest updates will be on top. All times are EST.

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1:30 PM -- Tear gas used on protesters: The following clip, noted by the Times' Robert Mackey, who is live-blogging today's protests, appears to show tear gas being used on protesters in Tehran.

1:15 PM -- Were the protests a disappointment?: Multiple sites have highlighted the fact that some involved in today's protests seem disappointed by the opposition's showing. Some of this seems to be attributed to the fact that Iran's security forces came out in such numbers. Andrew Sullivan has a good rundown of the ongoing debate.

Everyone we have spoken to so far this morning has said about the same thing -- in a word or two: "A big anticlimax," "defeat," "An overwhelming presence from the other side. People were terrified." In fact, it appears that the regime was so confident, it did not feel the need to disrupt cellphone or messaging services, or even the internet for that matter.

One Tehran Bureau correspondent relayed the following:

"Today has been a bust. Lots of people left town, left the country. There was extra security. I was down at Azadi Square, and they [regime] couldn't even get the huge crowd they wanted. It didn't matter though, because the Greens either didn't show up or authorities were successful in keeping them out.

Here's another take from earlier today, via NIAC:

It's still very early to be drawing conclusions from today's events, as people are still out in the streets.  But one thing I'm struck by is just how much the government has been in control today.  Sure, they chartered busses and lured tens of thousands to the official government rally with free food, but they have also managed to keep the opposition activities largely on their terms today. 

More from NIAC:

Many commenters are calling the presence of governmental security forces "stifling," using violence and intimidation to prevent demonstrations from growing beyond relatively small numbers.  With over a month to prepare, the government's security forces were out in full force today, immediately reacting when opposition leaders like Karroubi, Khatami, and Mousavi appeared among the people.

One protester related her disappointment to the AP, pointing to the strength of the security forces:

One protester told The Associated Press she had tried to join the demonstrations but soon left in disappointment. "There were 300 of us, maximum 500. Against 10,000 people," she told an AP reporter outside Iran. She said there were few clashes.

"It means they won and we lost. They defeated us. They were able to gather so many people," she said. "But this doesn't mean we have been defeated for good. It's a defeat for now, today. We need time to regroup."

Another protester insisted the opposition had come out in significant numbers, but "the problem was that we were not able to gather in one place because they (security forces) were very violent."

Iran News Now, however, challenges the idea that the protesters were kept in check by the government:

How can one say that "the government of Iran managed to keep opposition activities largly on their terms today"?

Under what basis? Hasn't the fact that the Opposition has used non-violent protests for 8 months to counter the regime's lies and brutality, to the point that the regime cannot stop the protests, cannot prevent the videos from being broadcast instantaneously to the world, and now has had to seemingly calibrate its brutality to the point that it is starting to try to reduce casualties, actually shown that it is the Greens that have the regime on their terms?

11:15 AM -- Security forces beat young man: This clip, uploaded on YouTube and picked up by a number of live blogs, appears to show an opposition supporter being beaten by Iran security forces Thursday, though, as always, it's difficult to verify the video's origins.

10:15 AM -- Mousavi's wife assaulted? : Enduring America points to a report that Mir Hossein Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, was beaten by a group of basiji in Sadeghieh Square. She was reportedly able to escape with help from protesters who protected her.

10:00 AM -- First hand account: AP confirms reports that circulated earlier that police were firing paintballs in order to mark protesters for arrest.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has a translated account from an eyewitness who called into Radio Farda:

"I was in Sadeghiyeh and though people were not holding up any symbols, I think most of them were against the regime because they wouldn't respond to the official chants from the loudspeakers.

The security forces attacked the crowd violently, with cables, batons, and gas. Where I was, I can say that the 22 Bahman celebrations did not take place. I saw a small gathering of regime supporters and even they were dispersed by the police.

The people were beaten and I even saw some seriously injured individuals. That's what happens when you're attacked with chains. But no shots were fired."
9:40 AM -- Police presence
: This picture has been popping up on a number of sites. It shows just how heavy the presence of government security forces is in Tehran today.

9:30 AM -- Video of the chaos: According to Iran News Now this video shows people chanting "The Basiji's have gone wild."

9:15 AM -- Protests outside of Tehran: The video below reportedly shows opposition supporters protesting in Isfahan, Iran's third largest city.

9:10 AM -- Update from Green Voice: Here's some of the report of today's protests on the opposition website Iran Green Voice.

From the early hours of today, Sadeghiyeh square in west Tehran has been the scene of clashes between anti-riot police and green protesters. Security forces have used gunfire and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Eye witnesses seen Chinese anti-riot vehicles positioned on Jamejam Street waiting to be used against innocent civilians during today's marches. According to our reports from the north-western city of Tabriz, the city's Freedom Square has been mainly occupied Green Movement protestors.

From the moment the rallies had commenced, state TV has been careful not show any footages of gatherings anti-government protesters regardless of their size. Most the images coming from state television has focused on close-up images from Azadi Square and footages from Navab Square which saw strong pro-government presence there.

Sadeghiyeh Square has been a focal point of today's demonstrations as it was where many had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of one of the leaders of the Green Movement Mahdi Karroubi. And he did indeed arrive as promised, but was quickly forced to leave the rally after pro-government forces smashed the windows of his vehicle, injured his head and tore his robe. His son Ali Karroubi has also been arrested.

9:00 AM -- Trampling on Khamenei: This video shows protesters tearing down a sign of the Ayatollah and trampling on it.

8:45 AM -- Video from the protests: Despite the government's imposition of Internet restrictions video purportedly from today's protests has emerged. In this video protests can be heard chanting "Referendum! Referendum!"

8:30 AM -- Video of Ahmadinejad's speech : As the AP notes, foreign media were only permitted to cover Ahmadinejad's speech and the main ceremonies, and are banned from covering opposition protests. During his speech Ahmadjinejad said that Iran had produced its first batch of uranium enriched to a higher level.

(AP) TEHRAN, Iran — TEHRAN, Iran - The Iranian security forces unleashed a crushing sweep against opposition protesters on Thursday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution to defy the West and boast his country was now a "nuclear state."

The massive show of force appeared to give authorities the upper hand on the most important day of the Iranian political calendar. The state-backed rally dwarfed anti-government gatherings, which were far smaller than other outpourings of dissent in recent months.

Police clashed with anti-government protesters in several sites around Tehran, firing tear gas to disperse them and paintballs to mark them for arrest. Gangs of hard-liners also attacked senior opposition figures -- including the wife of the head of the reform movement.

Still, the day's events showed that authorities must rely on full-scale pressures to keep a lid on demonstrations, and any breathing room may be limited. Opposition supporters are certain to regroup and look for weak spots in the ruling system.

In his address to a crowd of hundreds of thousands -- many bused into Tehran's Freedom Square -- Ahmadinejad sought to shift attention from the nation's political troubles, boasting instead about Iran's advancements in nuclear technology. He also dismissed new U.S. sanctions and denigrated President Barack Obama's efforts to repair relations.

Iran has the capacity to make weapons-grade nuclear fuel if it chooses, the Iranian leader declared, adding that Iran had succeeded in enriching uranium to 20 percent and was now a "nuclear state."

"We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent or 80 percent but we don't enrich (to this level) because we don't need it," he said. "When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb. If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it."

The Obama administration dismissed Iran's contention it is enriching uranium at a higher level, adding that such claims were disturbing.

Even if untrue, Ahmadinejad's claim "further solidifies our impression and that of the international community that Iran's nuclear intentions are anything but peaceful," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Ahmadinejad has been staunchly backed by Iran's ruling clerics since his disputed re-election in June touched off the worst internal turmoil in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Now many opposition groups are denouncing the entire Islamic system.

This is what deeply worried authorities preparing for Thursday's 31st anniversary of the Islamic state. Any significant protests or clashes would be seen as major embarrassment on a day intended to showcase national achievements and unity.

An array of riot police, undercover security agents and hard-line militiamen -- some on motorcycles -- fanned out across Tehran in what appeared to be the largest and most strategic deployment since the post-election mayhem.

Security forces were seen in nearly every neighborhood. They had one primary goal: to keep protesters from gaining momentum following weeks of arrests and warnings from authorities.

Opposition Web sites spoke of groups of protesters in the hundreds -- compared with much larger crowds in past demonstrations.

One protester told The Associated Press she tried to join the opposition demonstrators but soon left in disappointment because they were overwhelmed by pro-government marchers.

"There were 300 of us, maximum 500. Against 10,000 people," she told an AP reporter outside Iran.

"It means they won and we lost. They defeated us. They were able to gather so many people," she said. "But this doesn't mean we have been defeated for good. It's a defeat for now, today. We need time to regroup."

Another protester insisted the opposition had come out in significant numbers, but "the problem was that we were not able to gather in one place because they (security forces) were very violent."

"Maybe people got scared," he said. "The idea wasn't to lose or win today ... But what is certain, today was not a good day."

Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by authorities, who have jailed protesters for talking to foreign media.

Some analysts predict the opposition could move away from large street marches in favor of strikes and boycotts. "The crackdown has been very tough," said Meir Javedanfar, an analyst. "The lower turnout means either people are scared or, more likely, they will change tactics."

Despite the smaller opposition turnout, there were reports of clashes in Tehran. Foreign media is banned from street reporting under rules imposed by Iranian authorities.

At least one opposition leader was attacked, but not injured. Dozens of hard-liners with batons and pepper spray attacked the convoy of a senior opposition leader, Mahdi Karroubi, smashing his car windows and forcing him to turn back as he tried to join the protests, his son Hossein Karroubi told the AP.

Authorities also jammed the Internet and mobile phones to disrupt the opposition. In Tehran, Internet speeds dropped dramatically and e-mail services such as Gmail were widely blocked.

In his nationally televised address, Ahmadinejad said Iran has produced the first batch of 20 percent enriched uranium -- sufficient strength to power Iran's research reactor, -- though he did not say how much uranium had been enriched.

Such a process has been at the heart of a U.N.-drafted proposal to provide Iran with reactor-ready fuel in exchange for its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Iran has repeatedly blocked the plan with conditions and caveats.

The announcement of the higher-enriched uranium adds to Western worries that Iran has long-term goals to develop nuclear arms -- even though it is still below the 90 percent-plus level needed for a weapon. Iran insists it only seeks to produce energy and medical isotopes.

Ahmadinejad also criticized Obama for failing to shift U.S. policies.

"We expected Mr. Obama to make changes," Ahmadinejad said. "But he is losing the chance and not acting properly ... Obama's approach and behavior is disappointing."

The gathering was the biggest state-backed event since marches shortly after the June election, which opponents said was rigged. Many in the crowd waved Iranian flags and carried pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic state, and his successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But in a sign of Iran's unruly political climate, security forces briefly detained Khomeini's granddaughter and her husband, who are both pro-reform politicians, according to the couple's son, Ali.

The granddaughter, Zahra Eshraghi, and her husband Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the brother of a former pro-reform president, were held for less than an hour before being released, their son told the AP.

The opposition Web site Kaleme reported that security forces prevented opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from reaching any rallies.

Plainclothes militiamen also beat Mousavi's wife, 65-year-old Zahra Rahnavard, with clubs on her head and back until her supporters surrounded her and whisked her away, according to the Web site.

For days ahead of the anniversary, anti-government Web sites and blogs called for a major turnout to display green emblems or clothes, the opposition's signature color. Some protesters heeded the appeals, brandishing green banners or wore green wrist bands.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse a group of protesters who were trying to march toward Freedom Square as they chanted "death to the dictator," the opposition Web site Rahesabz said. It also reported a number of arrests.

The apparently isolated clashes contrast with the running street battles during protests over the past few months. In late December, at least eight people were killed during a Shiite holy day.

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