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Tehran students excoriate Ahmadinejad

Special to The Times

Dozens of students opposed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s human rights record confronted the leader and his supporters Monday at the country’s most prestigious university.

The students, defying a broad government crackdown on dissent, accused Ahmadinejad of corruption and discrimination, and chanted, “Death to the dictator!”

The president came to Tehran University to inaugurate the academic year, just two weeks after he was confronted by protests during a visit to Columbia University in New York.

During his appearance Monday, Ahmadinejad was flanked by the head of the university and the minister of science. Black-shirted members of the Basiji, a hard-line pro-government militia, shouted in support of Ahmadinejad. “Our president, thank you, thank you!” they said.

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Ahmadinejad, widely criticized in the West for questioning the Holocaust and pursuing a nuclear program, cuts a divisive figure at home.

His government has tolerated little dissent, arresting students, purging free-thinking professors and cracking down on young men and women wearing Western-style clothing.

“You, Mr. Ahmadinejad, claimed at Columbia University that there is freedom of speech in Iran’s universities,” one student said over a megaphone. “Then why are three students still in jail?”

Pro-Ahmadinejad students called the protesters sellouts and beholden to the United States. “Death to the hypocrites!” they shouted.

Scholars awarded Ahmadinejad a citation for defending Iran during his New York visit.

About 50 students each from pro- and anti-Ahmadinejad camps participated in the demonstrations. Additional protesters came to complain about the university’s lack of facilities, including a shortage of dormitory space and poor Internet connections.

“I am here out of curiosity,” said Ali, a graduate student in sociology who asked that his last name not be published. “I hate politics.

“I think in Iran you cannot live up to your own potential, and there are no good prospects for jobs,” he said.

“I am applying for further education in Europe or the U.S., where I can go and live in a way that I think is right.”


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