ISFAHAN, Iran (AP) – Hundreds of Iranian students formed a human chain Tuesday outside the uranium conversion plant here, noisily demanding their government continue its contentious nuclear program and ignore U.S.-led Western pressure to shut it down.
The hard-line students, who came from universities in at least three Iranian cities, also called on Iran to toughen its diplomatic line amid the fallout over Tehran”s decision last week to restart uranium conversion in the central city of Isfahan.
That move sparked condemnations from Europe and led U.S. President George W. Bush to say he would consider attacking Iran to halt a nuclear program that some in Washington claim is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Iran has long reiterated that its nuclear program has peaceful aims, including producing electricity.
Gathered under searing sunshine, bearded male students and black cloak-wearing females shouted demands for Iran to resume uranium enrichment at the shuttered plant in Natanz, another central Iranian city.
Iran says it would use enriched uranium only to power nuclear reactors for generating electricity, Tehran”s past concealment of portions of its atomic program has created distrust in the West and strengthened suspicions in Washington that the material is meant for bombs.
"Nuclear energy is our obvious right!" and "Restarting the Isfahan plant is our first step!" chanted the students as speakers blared nationalistic songs from a makeshift stage, over which hung a banner reading "Europe, do not be a slave to Zionism."
Male and female students formed separate chains outside the facility, being watched closely by uniformed and plainclothes police, plus curious workers at the uranium plant, who gathered inside the fence to listen.
Some of the speeches urged the government not to give in to European pressures and continue uranium reprocessing activities in Isfahan, including converting uranium into gas, which is the last step in processing radioactive ore before it can undergo enrichment to become reactor fuel or the material for nuclear weapons.
"We also call on the government to resume uranium enrichment in Natanz if the Europeans are not prepared to recognize our right,"
said demonstrator Majid Mohseni.
Another speaker, 22-year-old theology student Ali Mousabi, said Iran should withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Tehran signed as a pledge against building a nuclear bomb.
The rally was among a growing number of signs that Iran is hardening its stance in talks with the European Union, which wants to halt Tehran”s enrichment activities in return for various economic, technological and political incentives. Iran last week rejected an EU offer.
On Monday, Iran”s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appointed hard-line former military commander Ali Larijani to head the agency that oversees nuclear talks with the EU.