Dec 12, 2006

Ahwazi: Iranian Students Disrupt Ahmadinejad

Iranian students staged a rare protest against President Ahmadinejad on Monday, calling him a "dictator" and burning his photograph as he delivered a speech.

Below is an article published by the International Herald Tribune:

TEHRAN, Iran: Iranian students staged a rare protest against President Mahmamoud Ahmadinejad on Monday, calling him a "dictator" and burning his photograph as he delivered a speech at their university.

The hard-line president took the outburst in stride as he stood at the podium in a crowded hall at Amir Kabir Technical University as a small group in the audience started chanting, "Death to the dictator."

"We have resisted dictatorship for many years — from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution," he replied, according to the state news agency. "Nobody can bring back a dictatorship even in the name of freedom."

There have been very few protests against Ahmadinejad since he took office in June 2005 elections. The once powerful reform movement had already been deeply demoralized before his victory, pushed out of power by hard-liners in Iran's cleric-led government.

State-run television did not mention to the demonstration, but it showed footage of Ahmadinejad's speech and the protesters' chants could be heard with difficulty.

The disturbance began when a group of students started chanting during the speech in a hall at the university. One held up a poster proclaiming, "Fascist president, the Polytechnic is not a place for you."

They held an Ahmadinejad picture upside down and set it alight, then a student set off a firecracker.

Ahmadinejad supporters in the audience began to chant in response, silencing the protesters. Ahmadinejad then continued with his speech.

There was no report of the authorities arresting any of the protesters.

It was a rare direct confrontation between the president and university students, who were once a main power base of Iran's reform movement.

The reform movement peaked in the late 1990s after pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami was elected and his supporters swept parliament. But hard-liners who control the judiciary, security forces and powerful unelected bodies in the government stymied attempts to ease social and political restrictions.

Numerous pro-reform newspapers were shut down, and since Ahmadinejad's election those that remain have been muted in their criticism, fearing closure. A few months ago the government banned a newspaper that had satirized Ahmadinejad in a cartoon.

At universities, pro-reform students have been marginalized, holding low-level meetings. They hold occasional demonstrations, usually to demand better school facilities or the release of detained colleagues. But pro-government student groups have grown more powerful.

Last week, hundreds of opposition students in University of Tehran staged a short demonstration, demanding more freedoms.