TEHRAN, Iran — Violent clashes erupted Thursday in downtown Tehran between thousands of defiant protesters chanting "Death to the dictator" and security forces wielding truncheons as the political crisis over Iran's disputed presidential election stretched into its fourth week.
Large contingents of uniformed and plainclothes security forces flooded the city's central squares and managed with batons and tear gas to eventually disperse demonstrators, many of whom wore black and held up their fingers in "V" for victory salutes.
Protesters in and around Enqelab (Revolution) Square set fire to trash bins to ward off the effects of gas, witnesses said, but by and large avoided engaging the security forces in the rock-throwing and running street battles that characterized protests several weeks ago. There were reports of clashes in other Iranian cities, but they could not be confirmed.
Demonstrators said they were determined to defy authorities, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who have demanded an end to public rallies and acts of civil disobedience. Tracts distributed online and handed out as leaflets called on protesters to borrow nonviolent tactics used in the American civil rights movement, avoid internal rifts in their ranks and take no action that would hamper morale.
Protesters chanted in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was defeated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a disputed election last month, and urged the security forces to join them.
"Mojtaba, may you die, so that you don't get the supreme leadership," went one chant, referring to Khamenei's son, who is said to be behind the crackdown on dissent and angling for his father's position.
Though the number of protesters did not nearly match the hundreds of thousands who flooded the streets for peaceful demonstrations after the June 12 election, organizers showed Thursday they could quickly gather a crowd despite the efforts of security forces. The day, the 10-year anniversary of a student uprising violently crushed by the government, is a perennial occasion for confrontations between demonstrators and police.
"It is going to continue," vowed one marcher in his 60s, big drops of sweat on his forehead. "They have killed our dear youth. How we can forgive them?"
But as the militiamen tried to drag away demonstrators, one witness said protesters would join to overpower them and rescue comrades. He also said he saw women with their head scarves pulled off being forced into police vans. Another woman taking pictures with her cell phone was dragged away. One witness described how five Basiji militiamen pummeled an elderly lady who loudly warned them that they would receive their comeuppance on Judgment Day.