Regime change or bust: Riots at Teheran U worst since 1999

Friday, June 13, 2003

The Iranian regime of Ayatollah Khamenei has mobilized thousands of anti-riot police and vigilantes to Teheran University to suppress the most serious student unrest since 1999.

The order by the inheritors of Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 revolution, under pressure since the fall of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, has been viewed as an act of desperation.

Determined protesters are in their third day of demonstrations against the Khamenei regime as well as President Mohammed Khatami who ran on a reform ticket but is increasingly viewed as a foil for the ruling mullahs.

In a reversal, the Teheran regime has employed the Basij militia to stop reformist students from commemorating the fourth anniversary of the bloody anti-regime protests.

On Wednesday, Khamenei officially ordered his security forces not to to suppress the rioting. Basij members undergo military training and many of them have been equipped with motorcycles to pursue and assault suspected student protesters.

"Leaders do not have the right to have any pity whatsoever for the mercenaries of the enemy," Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei said in a television broadcast on Thursday. "If the Iranian nation decides to deal with the rioters, it will do so in the way it dealt with it on July 14, 1999."

"Khamenei has lost his equillibrium and control and does not know what to do," said Assad Homayoun who heads the Washington, D.C. foundation, Azadegan. "Also he is not sure the armed forces will continue to support him. The situation is similar to that in Romania in which the armed forces suddenly changed loyalties and took the people's side. This scenario may repeat itself in Iran."

The Iranian crackdown appears to have halted the spread of the student protests, which so far have been limited to the area around Teheran University. But sources in Iran said opposition forces are organizing in every major city of Iran.

Overnight Friday, several hundred students confronted the anti-riot police and pro-regime vigilantes. During the previous days, thousands of students massed in anti-regime protests at the university. About 80 students were said to have been arrested this week.

The student protesters have called for the resignation of Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. First elected as a reformer in 1997, Khatami has lost much of his support amid accusations that he quietly cooperated with the crackdowns against freedom by security forces.

Iranian leaders have justified the crackdown by accusing the United States of fomenting student unrest in an attempt to undermine the Islamic regime.

Homayoun said the core of the resistance is in inside Iran. The opposition to the Iranian regime has also been supported by former Iranian citizens organizing via the Internet and now living in the United States and Europe, he said.

Many of the anti-regime Farsi-language satellite broadcasts come from exiled opposition groups based in Los Angeles, Washington and Europe.

"The continuation of enthusiastic U.S. support for the aspirations of the people of Iran is crucial at this time," said Homayoun who has offered to help form a secular democratic government in Iran. Homayoun credited a speech by President George W. Bush last year as crucial to continued growth of the reform movement in Iran.

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