IRAN: Videos of weekend clashes over labor issues show opposition vitality

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‘We are Neda! We are Sohrab!’ the students chanted, in reference to Neda Agha-Soltan and Sohrab Aarabi, two protesters killed in last year’s post-election political violence. ‘We are all one voice!’

Reports and amateur-video clips are trickling in showing weekend clashes between anti-government and pro-labor protesters and security forces in the capital and other Iranian cities.


Iranian opposition leaders have sought to widen their movement by reaching out to factory workers and schoolteachers, two segments of the Iranian population that have seen purchasing power and status diminish under the inflationary economic policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tensions began to rise steadily in the days before international workers’ day on May 1 and Iran’s teachers’ day on May 2.

Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi delivered a speech posted to YouTube Thursday voicing solidarity with workers.

‘What on earth [do you think] laborers and teachers want?’ he was quoted as saying. ‘They want justice and freedom.’

Kayhan, the hard-line mouthpiece of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, accused Mousavi and other opposition leaders of ‘instigating [workers] in line with Western enemies and their plots against the Islamic system.’

Anticipating trouble, security forces on May 1 clamped down on downtown Tehran, especially near the headquarters of the semi-official labor guild. Anti-riot officers in full gear patrolled Tehran University.

Still, hundreds of students gathered at the main Tehran University gate, chanting, ‘Death to the dictator!’ and ‘Death to you!’ as security forces watched on the other side, according to eyewitnesses and photos and video posted to the internet.

Ahmadinejad delivered a speech to a select group of laborers in the auditorium of the Interior Ministry. The laborers were brought by bus from state-owned factories. According to an eyewitness, even some of those workers were agitated and angry and tried to talk with the president to plead for better working conditions, but the president’s bodyguards encircled him and hindered access.

After Ahmadinejad went to Tehran University’s School of Medical Science without prior notice, students also gathered in protest.

As the afternoon wore on, clashes broke out in the sides streets around downtown Tehran near the Labor and Welfare Ministry. Dozens were reported injured, but there were no confirmed reports of arrests.

On Sunday, teachers gathered in front of the former parliament near the office of Khamenei.

There were also reports of demonstrations in other cities including Tabriz, Shiraz, Kermanshah, Qazvin and Esfahan.

A source in Esfahan, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a number of people were injured and detained in the protests. One eyewitness said laid-off workers clashed with law enforcement. At least 16 were reportedly injured.

The witness said workers and students surrounded the Dastgerd police station. When they tried to seize it, police opened fire.

In Flaverjan, a working-class section of the city of Khomeinishahr, clashes broke out between anti-riot police and protesters, many of them unemployed laborers who threatened police with machetes and sticks.

-- Los Angeles Times

Videos: Clips show protesters and police on May 1 in Tehran. Credit: YouTube