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Reformist Journalist Says Protests Put 'Ball In Court' of Opposition Leader Musavi


Opposition supporters march through the streets of Tehran on September 18.

Opposition supporters march through the streets of Tehran on September 18.

Tens of thousands of supporters of Iran’s Green movement -- opponents of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- took to the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities on September 18. The protests took place at the same time as state-sponsored Quds day demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause.

A Tehran-based journalist, who asked not to be named because she fears retribution from Iranian authorities, told RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari that the latest anti-Ahmadinejad protests show the Green movement is still alive. She says it is now time for opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi to seize the initiative.

RFE/RL: You were at the protests in Tehran. Please first tell us what you saw and, according to your estimate, how many people were there? How would you describe the mood?

Tehran Journalist:
The main demonstration by the Green movement started at the Hafte Tir square. The crowd was scattered [at first]. Later, the number of the people carrying green flags and wearing green wristbands grew to about 100,000. They moved toward the Vali Asr square until they reached Karimkhan. There was a huge crowd. Police forces were deployed there, but they were standing and doing nothing. They just tried twice to stop the crowd from moving further. But there were many people. The police did not beat them and people could continue moving forward.

RFE/RL: What were some of the slogans that you heard people chanting?

Journalist:
When we reached the Vali Asr square, speakers were chanting from the official tribunes: "Death to Israel." People would chant back: "Death to Russia." It was so [bad] that they were forced to become silent and there were no more "Death to Israel" chants. Another chant was "Death to the Dictator, be it a Zionist or Doctor" [Mahmud Ahmadinejad is being called "Doctor" by his supporters].

When [reformist cleric] Mehdi Karrubi appeared, people chanted: "Karrubi the idol breaker! Destroy the main idol." [They shouted:] "No to Gaza" and "No to Lebanon." Another chant was: "My life belongs to Iran." Many were chanting: "Coup government, Resign, Resign" and "Death to the Dictator."

RFE/RL: You said Mehdi Karrubi was among the protesters. There were also reports about former President Mohammad Khatami being at the protest and being attacked by plainclothes agents. IRNA reported that opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi was at Vali Asr square around noon but had to leave. What kind of news do you have about Musavi? Did you see him at the protest?

Journalist:
I did not see Musavi in the crowd where I was. We went up until Keshavarz Boulevard and then [security forces] started using tear gas. Hadi Ghafari [a cleric who has criticized Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] was there. After the protest, pro-government websites reported that Musavi's supporters were smoking. Because of the tear gas, people had to set newspapers on fire and use cigarette smoke to feel a bit better.

But the pro-government websites are now maneuvering and saying that they had smoked during the month of Ramadan and that they had broken their fast. At Keshavarz Boulevard, worshippers were sitting. Ahmadinejad’s supporters began beating up people who were in the front line -- including [cleric] Hadi Ghafari -- and using tear gar. We changed our itinerary and we moved toward Vanak square and the crowd was chanting the same slogans.

RFE/RL: What do you think was the message and the significance of today's protest by the Green movement? People were protesting against Mahmud Ahmadinejad, despite warnings and an ongoing crackdown.

Journalist:
There are two important issues here. First of all, the Revolutionary Guard had announced last night that it will confront anyone who creates discord. But people took to the streets despite the warning. The Revolutionary Guard was discredited by this because they were not able to do much.

The other issue was that they kept saying the Green movement has died out and there are no more protests. They say that the "Allah Akbar" chants at night have decreased. But people came out today. They were determined. And from the beginning, they called on the government to resign. They demonstrated, despite the public revelations about rape in prisons, torture, and forced confessions. None of this has had any impact on the Green movement.

RFE/RL: What does the latest protest tell us about the future of the Green movement?

Journalist:
Musavi now has a winning card. Three months after the [June 12 presidential vote], he can say: "I have many serious supporters who can come out in the streets despite the threats." In fact, we have thrown the ball into Musavi's court. And we have said: "Now it's your turn to find a solution."

This winning card should be used for political purposes. The ironic thing about today's protest was that when Ahmadinejad was saying in his speech that the Israelis kill Palestinians, we were being beaten and subjected to tear gas. It was very, very interesting.

RFE/RL: Women such as yourself have been at the forefront of many of the postelection protests. How was it today? Were there many women protesting?

Journalist:
Actually, the presence of women was very significant. There were women who had come with their children. There were elderly women in the crowd who could barely walk.

RFE/RL: Many say that people do not seem to be afraid to protest anymore. They come out in the streets even though they can be arrested and charged with security crimes. How do you explain this lack of fear?

Journalist:
There is a slogan that people chant: "Iranians die but do not accept humiliation." Or we go and try to talk to those who are armed with batons. We tell them that no Iranian should beat his countrymen. ...What I’m trying to say is that we have been insulted, but instead of making us forget and calming us down, [authorities] make things worse. For example, they cheat [in the elections]. We come out on the streets. They arrest people. Then they force someone like [reformist strategist] Saeed Hajarian to make false confessions. They accuse us of having ties to foreign countries and receiving cash payments from them.

Today, Ahmadinejad’s supporters told us: "You have received money to come to the street and protest." Some of them were carrying a banner that said: "Rioters, BBC, congratulations on your union." We reacted by shouting: "Israel, Ahmadi [Ahmadinejad], congratulations on your union." People cannot sit at home when they are being insulted. They had [many] ways to calm people, [but they didn't]."

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