On a day of angry street clashes, thousands of people rallied against the government on Monday at universities across Iran, defying a wide-ranging advance effort to suppress the protests and bringing a new ferocity to the opposition movement’s confrontation with the regime.
The protests, taking place on National Student Day, set off battles in and around campuses. Protesters hurled rocks and set fires amid clouds of tear gas, while a vast deployment of police and plainclothes Basij militia members beat back chanting protesters with chains, truncheons and stun guns.
There were reports of dozens of arrests and injuries. Many witnesses said the day’s confrontations were the most violent since the rallies that followed last summer’s disputed presidential election.
The protests — the opposition’s first major street showing in more than a month — also included the most aggressive verbal attacks on the Islamic Republic yet, witnesses said, with some protesters burning posters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader. Other marchers carried an Iranian flag from which the signature emblem of “Allah” — added after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution — had been removed. At Sharif University in Tehran, protesters could be seen on a video clip posted to YouTube chanting “death to the oppressor, whether Shah or Supreme Leader.”
The authorities had barricaded and surrounded universities in an effort to forestall dissent on an official holiday commemorating the killing of three students by the Shah’s forces in 1953. They arrested dozens of student leaders, ordered foreign news outlets to stay away and reduced the Internet to a trickle to limit the opposition’s main link with its supporters.
Nevertheless, large crowds of university students gathered on campuses across Iran on Monday morning, many holding banners or armbands in the opposition’s trademark bright-green color, to chant “God is Great!” and “Death to the Dictator.” Twitter and opposition Web sites featured video clips of rallies in Tehran, Mashad, Isfahan, Tabriz and other cities.
One video showed hundreds of students at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran waving bank notes in the air to ridicule the Basij members, who are officially volunteers but are widely said to receive money for cracking down on protesters. Another video showed students breaking down the university’s front gates, which the authorities had locked to prevent the protests from spreading.
Another group of protesters near Tehran University waved a Russian flag at the police and then set it on fire, in a gesture mocking the Iranian regime’s ritual anti-Americanism. Russia was quick to recognize Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president after the election, prompting opposition supporters — who believe the election was stolen through massive fraud — to protest.
The renewed set of protests comes at a sensitive time for Iran’s government, which recently rejected an international proposal to transport the country’s uranium abroad for processing.