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Contrasts mark embassy anniversary

TEHRAN, Iran — The contrasts were vivid: Pro-government supporters chanted "Death to America" and stomped on U.S. flags Wednesday while not far away, hundreds of opposition protesters denounced Iran's leaders and appealed to America's president to choose sides.

"Obama, Obama, you are either with them, or with us," the antigovernment protesters chanted in Farsi.

The new and startling appeal to President Barack Obama came as Iran's opposition protesters returned to the streets in large numbers for the first time in nearly two months, on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover. Authorities were ready with the same sweeping measures they used to quell fierce election-fraud protests this summer and early fall: sending paramilitary units to key locations to fire tear gas and beat people with batons.

Witnesses said they heard a man, apparently working for a paramilitary group, shout "Beat him up, beat him up," as he chased a protester in the crowd. "How is it possible to see such cruelty," another protester cried as he stood on the street, according to the same witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

The protests showed the determination of Iran's opposition to reassert its voice. But the latest marches drew far fewer demonstrators than in the summer or even in September, suggesting the relentless pressure by authorities could be taking a toll.

Thousands of people attended a progovernment rally called to mark the anniversary, while just blocks away, hundreds of opposition marchers in Haft-e-Tir Square denounced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with cries of "Death to the dictator" and trampled a poster of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, witnesses said.

In all, several thousand protesters joined the marches in various places across the city. But those numbers were far smaller than at the height of the outrage after claims that Ahmadinejad stole the election by fraud this summer.

The main marches were quickly dispersed by security forces who used clubs and tear gas, said other witnesses.

Mobile phones were disrupted as was Internet access and text messaging, in another echo of the summer.

Obama: Let's move beyond mistrust

President Barack Obama released his statement on Wednesday, marking the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. He repeated his appeals to move beyond the two countries' mutual distrust and suggested that time was running out on a U.N.-backed plan aimed at averting a showdown over Iran's nuclear ambitions. "The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice and their courageous pursuit of universal rights," the statement said of the Iranian people.

Contrasts mark embassy anniversary 11/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 10:00pm]
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