Students, security forces face off in Tehran

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Reporting from Beirut — Protests surged in Iran as students around the country clashed this afternoon with security forces armed with clubs in the latest round of street confrontations over the nation’s disputed presidential elections.

Police shot tear gas canisters at protesters chanting “Death to the dictator” and setting garbage bins afire. Hundreds of security forces in riot gear stood alongside streets, witnesses said.

Pro-government Basiji militiamen had been allowed to flood university campuses since early in the morning to prevent protests from breaking out, students said. As a chilly and overcast afternoon began, police and plainclothes militiamen could be seen beating fleeing demonstrators and hauling them away.

But the number of protesters heading to the streets appeared to be increasing, one independent witness said, describing a “new wave” of unrest after 3 p.m.

“Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid!” they chanted. “We are all together.”

Defying the crackdown, video footage showed students getting bolder as the day wore on, chanting increasingly radical slogans and unfurling banners of green, the color of the protest movement. Despite the violent response, the determination among the young students and activists who make up the core of the protest movement showed no signs of abating.

“This is the price for freedom,” said one young man in his mid-20s as he nursed an arm badly bruised by what he said was a police truncheon. “Our friends in jail are on hunger strike. I cannot help protesting. I simply have to do something.”

State television and radio carried no news about the protests. The Fars news agency, which is close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the hard-line Revolutionary Guard, reported that 2,000 pro-government activists took to the streets in the capital.

But amateur videotape posted to the Internet showed hundreds of anti-government students chanting slogans and gathering on various campuses in the capital. On expansive boulevards outside the campuses, smoke from tear gas filled the air, as witnesses reported numerous arrests.

There were also reports and video footage of protests breaking out on campuses in the central Iranian cities of Shiraz and Kerman, in the eastern city of Mashhad as well as Tabriz and Kermanshah in western Iran.

National Students’ Day marks a violent crackdown on a 1953 protest against a visit by then Vice-President Richard M. Nixon following a U.S.-backed coup d’etat that ousted the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and restored the absolute rule of the monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, it has traditionally been an occasion when high school and college students take to the streets and chant anti-American slogans.