Tehran Police Drive Wedge between Islamic Vigilantes and Students

Violent three-way clashes in Tehran marked the July 9 anniversary of the brutally suppressed student demonstrations of 1999, despite the Islamic regime’s advance crackdown against the pro-democracy student movement. Hundreds of hard-line Islamic vigilantes, police and students milling about outside Tehran University got into running battles Wednesday night. Police clashed with students as well as with the Basiji vigilantes, who are fiercely loyal to Iran’s radical spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, to prevent them from getting closer to the university. The street center was jammped by cars sounding their horns.
In expectation of trouble, the authorities had banned gatherings and closed campuses. Riot police lined the streets around Tehran University. Earlier Wednesday, three student activists were hauled off by vigilantes after declaring President Mohammed Khatami’s reforms a failure and declaring the intention of staging a sit-in opposite the UN.
debkafile‘s sources in Teheran report that the Islamic authorities took a number of steps to ensure that the July 9 anniversary passed quietly, although they failed to take into account clashes that would bring police and Islamic vigilantes into collision. The government shut all universities to prevent students from organizing, although end of term exams were still being held. Orders went out to close all dormitories – where students had been organizing their protests – to force out-of-towners to return home. Those who had nowhere to go had no time for demonstrations – they were too busy looking for new lodgings
Official preemptive actions included the arrest of the entire student leadership along with protest organizers after inciting them to demonstrate for ten nights in June in order to catch them off-balance a month before the anniversary. To make the student leaders show their hands, the pro-government Kayban and Jomhouri-e Eslami newspapers published inflammatory reports of government plans to privatize universities and force students to pay prohibitively steep tuition. The Basij were used as agents provocateurs to fan the flames of protest so as to mark out student activists for arrest or worse. Basij students are granted free tuition and exemptions from university entrance exams.
Despite mass arrests – even official figures showed some 4,000 people had been detained – multitudes of non-students kept on joining the protests, keeping them on the front burner for days. They then moved on to hunger strikes that went on and off for about three weeks.
But they failed to make much of an impact on the domestic and international press and many gave in to exhaustion. By the time July 9 rolled around, most student leaders were behind bars or in hiding, with death threats being made covertly and openly against their families.
Still, the Islamic regime prepared for the worst by setting up a command center for protest suppression at a military base in west Teheran where the Sar-Allah Brigades of the Revolutionary Guard are stationed. Anti-riot units massed at the facility, backed up by the Revolutionary Guards. Instructions were issued banning people in uniform – soldiers and revolutionary guardsmen – from approaching universities or other flashpoints alone or in pairs. Civil servants were told to be ready to take part in pro-government demonstrations in case opposition protests broke out.
In the meantime, a new wave of arrests and trials has begun. According to debkafile‘s sources, known political reformists have been targeted and at least seven newspapers belonging to the freedom camp will be closed.
The ruling mullahs also managed, in a move unprecedented in the annals of broadcasting, to jam the signals that Farsi-language television stations in Los Angeles send via ground stations to satellites that beam the anti-government programs into Iran. The tactic was a departure from partially successful attempts in the past to block transmissions from the satellites themselves, jamming that touched off protests by ordinary Iranians and even reformists. This time, debkafile‘s sources report, Iran paid Cuban experts handsome fees to disrupt the uplink itself, stopping even exiled Iranians in Canada and Europe from tuning in.
The United States has not protested this violation of its airwaves, although owners of the Farsi-language television stations in Los Angeles intend to complain to President George W. Bush and demand an inquiry.
Though cheered on from Washington and Iranian emigre communities around the world, the pro-democracy students and reformists have failed to shake the theocratic regime which has ruled Iran for a quarter century. But demonstrators may get a second chance; more street protests are expected soon. The United States is also keeping Teheran under pressure with accusations of granting sanctuary to senior al-Qaeda operatives and demands that Iran throw all its nuclear sites open to closer and unannounced international inspections.

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