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Video of Neda, Iranian woman shot in election protests, stirs worldwide horror

First the eyes.

Then the blood.

"Don't be afraid! Don't be afraid! Don't be afraid, Neda dear, don't be afraid!" the man with the white hair yells at the younger woman flat on her back on the street in Tehran.

This was Saturday evening, inside the unrest in Iran, captured by cell phones held so close the viewer feels like a kneeling eyewitness to the moment of her death. By Monday, two short video clips had gone global on Facebook and YouTube — gruesome, horrid, impossible not to watch.

Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, shot, one bullet to the heart, had become the face of the protests.

She is to this crisis, already, what the man in front of the tank was to Tiananmen Square. She could be even more — a martyr in a country where that word is not used lightly.

Neda, whose name in Farsi means "voice" or "calling," was the second of three children from a middle-class family, a former university student and engaged to be married.

"The Angel of Iran," a Facebook group called her.

"Iran's Joan of Arc," Internet posters said.

"One of the pillars of this movement now," Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Foxnews.com.

"I haven't been able to stop thinking about Neda," Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a chat Monday afternoon at Washingtonpost.com.

"Her death," Robin Wright wrote on Time.com, "may have changed everything."

The situation in Iran has been going on for 10 days. Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting what they feel was a rigged election June 12. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi was deemed suspect.

Since then, at least 17 people have died in the streets, according to Iranian state-run media reports. Around the world, though, for much of the last week, the coverage has been constrained by the government's expulsion of foreign reporters in the country. Many of the most compelling images coming from Iran are going from cell phones to Facebook and YouTube.

But they were still familiar images: burning cars, rocks being thrown, police with shields and batons.

Neda changed that.

"Obviously it's had a tremendous emotional impact," Hooshang Amirahmadi, the president of the American Iranian Council, said by phone from Princeton, N.J., Monday evening.

"The fact is that she died, in crossfire, for a cause. She believed in the cause of freedom."

She was born in Tehran, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. She studied Islamic philosophy at a branch of the city's Azad University. She worked in the tourism industry. She was taking classes in Turkish. She wanted to lead groups of Iranians on trips around the world. She loved music, especially Persian pop, and was taking piano lessons.

On Saturday, she was with her music teacher, the man with the white hair from the video, and they were stuck in traffic, heading to the demonstrations, when she got hot and tired and stepped out of the car to get some fresh air.

"It was just one bullet," Hamid Panahi, the music teacher, told the L.A. paper.

Who shot her? No one knows.

Why her? No one knows.

This is where the longer of the two videos starts rolling.

Blood first came out of the right side of her chest. Two men helped her to the ground. She was limp. Her hands were limp on either side of her head. The whites of her eyes.

The blood from her mouth.

"Aah!" a man near her yelled.

The blood from her nose.

"Aaahh!"

That image, lifted from those clips, spread around the world, started showing up on posters within hours, in New York, in Los Angeles.

Harder to know, though, was how widespread the image was in Iran.

Her fiance, Kaspin Makan, spoke to BBC Persia. "The authorities," he said, "are aware that everybody in Iran and throughout the whole world knows about her story."

But the protests were more quiet Sunday. On Monday, too, far fewer people were out in the streets, hundreds, not thousands, and government militias used tear gas, beatings and bullets fired into the air to make them disperse. There were signs, according to reports, that the opposition was losing some of its verve.

Tank man, as vivid an image as it was, also marked the end of the Beijing protests. The tanks stopped only for a moment.

Yet Shiites, for whom the concept of martyrdom is historically and critically important, mourn their dead on the third, seventh and then the 40th days after their death. The 40th day usually is the largest and most important.

Neda and her death aren't going away.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

Video of Neda, Iranian woman shot in election protests, stirs worldwide horror 06/22/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 10:51am]

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