U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hailed the "courage" and "aspirations" of antigovernment protesters in Iran, after thousands of them took to the streets of several Iranian cities.
In Tehran, opposition supporters rallying in solidarity with uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia clashed with security forces. One death was reported and dozens of people detained.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Congress, Clinton wished the opposition and "the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterparts seize in the last week."
"We support the universal human rights of the Iranian people," she said. "They deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and that are part of their own birthright."
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, rejected the remarks on February 15.
"We think that the shared desire of all the nations in the region is for the oppressive countries not to meddle -- especially in the face of the violations and encroachment of the Zionist regime -- and to cut off dependence from the U.S. and the Zionist regimes and their supporters," Mehmanparast said.
Shots In The Air, Tear Gas
Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that thousands of protesters on February 14 answered calls from the opposition to turn out for a banned rally in Tehran in support of the recent uprisings that ousted long-serving rulers in Tunisia and Egypt.
Protests were also reported in several other cities, including Shiraz and Isfahan.
Tehran demonstrators chanting slogans against Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were met with opposition by security forces, who fired into the air and used tear gas to disperse the crowd in the streets leading to Azadi Square -- the announced site of the main rally.
Opposition websites reported "dozens" of arrests at the rally -- the most significant since the December 2009 street protests that shook the Islamic republic and in which eight people were reported killed.
The hard-line Fars news agency quoted Iran’s deputy police chief as saying one person was killed and a number of other people were wounded, including nine security force members, in shootings.
Blaming the outlawed Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) for the shootings, Ahmad Reza Radan said the gatherings were directed by the United States, Britain, and Israel.
In a statement on February 15, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on the Iranian authorities to "fully respect and protect" the fundamental rights of their citizens, including freedom of expression and the right to assemble peacefully.
While Iran backed the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, authorities banned the February 14 rally planned by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi.
Ahead of the protest, Musavi and Karrubi were reportedly prevented from leaving their houses. Karrubi was put under house arrest last week, while on February 14 Musavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were prevented by security forces from joining the demonstration.
Their telephone lines were reportedly cut to prevent them from communicating with opposition members.
State news agency IRNA reported that lawmakers on February 15 called for the execution of Musavi , Karrubi, and former President Mohammad Khatami, who has aligned himself with the opposition.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said the opposition leaders had been "misled" by Iran's arch foes and called for a committee to be formed to probe and "confront" the opposition movement.
Washington has noted the inconsistency in Iran's position on the Egyptian uprising -- praising Egyptian protesters on the one hand while clamping down on dissent at home.
Clinton elaborated on that point in a February 14 interview with Michel Ghandour of Alhurra television.
"Well, I find it very ironic that Iran is trying to give lessons in democracy to anybody," she said. "Talk about a revolution that was hijacked -- Iran is Exhibit A. What Iran is doing to its people, even as we speak, where there are protesters trying to have their voices heard in Iran who are being brutally suppressed by the Iranian security forces, I don't think anyone in the Middle East – or frankly, anyone in the world – would look to Iran as an example for them."
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague made a similar comment on February 14, saying the Iranian people had the right to express their views about their country – just like the Egyptians.
On a visit to Iran, Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned that "when leaders and heads of countries do not pay attention to the demands of their nations, the people themselves take action to achieve their demands."
written by Antoine Blua, with contributions from Alhurra and agency reports