TEHRAN, (AFP) — Hundreds of thousands of Iranians, chanting slogans supporting the Arab uprisings and denouncing the United States, marched towards a Tehran square Friday to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic revolution which toppled the shah.
Men, women and children, braving the cold and cloudy weather, were seen marching from several parts of Tehran towards Azadi Square (Freedom Square) where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to address them.
“Egyptians, Tunisians, your uprisings are just and we are with you,” the crowds were heard chanting as they arrived at the square.
State television, which telecast the crowds live, said this year the government-organised rally would show solidarity with uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, with crowds shouting: “Hosni Mubarak, ‘mubarak’ (congratulations) on the uprising of your people.”
Similar marches were taking place in provincial cities to mark the anniversary, a yearly rallying point for the Islamic regime.
The 1979 revolution toppled the monarchy of shah Mohammad Reza, a key US ally in the region. Diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington were broken off soon after and remain so to this day.
“Death to America! Death to Israel!” chanted the crowd as they carried Iranian flags, banners and posters of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the uprising against the shah, and of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s supreme leader.
Late on Thursday, Ahmadinejad set the tone for his speech on Friday by hitting out at Western powers and Israel.
“The bullying and arrogant powers are on the verge of doom,” state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying at a diplomatic reception he hosted to mark the anniversary.
Referring to the US military presence on Iran’s borders in both Afghanistan and Iraq as well as in the Gulf, Ahmadinejad said: “The bases of bullying powers around the world will be eradicated, and occupations around the world and the region will soon come to an end.”
He said the increasing “participation of people in managing the world will lead to Zionists giving up their territories to Palestinians.”
In a separate report on state television’s website Ahmadinejad, referring to the Arab uprisings, said: “The message of the Islamic republic in past 32 years has been heard by the world and its mind has awakened.”
“The oceans of pure hearts have reached a boiling point and, God willing, it will wash all the pollution and dirt from human societies.”
The European Union is boycotting events marking the anniversary in protest at the hanging of Zahra Bahrami, an Iranian-Dutch woman executed by Tehran for drug smuggling.
“All EU members will boycott various events related to the Iranian national holiday Thursday and Friday in Tehran, Brussels and Geneva,” a diplomatic source told AFP.
The boycott, agreed by the political and security committee of the European Union on February 4 was “in protest of the execution of Ms. Zahra Bahrami” who was hanged on January 29, the source said.
The Netherlands has condemned the hanging of Bahrami, who was initially arrested during mass protests over Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 re-election, which sparked a deadly crackdown, but executed on drug smuggling charges.
Her execution prompted the Dutch government to freeze all diplomatic contact with what it labelled a “barbarous regime” in Iran.
During last year’s anniversary rally, Iran’s opposition had attempted to stage anti-government demonstrations which were crushed by security forces and the Basij militiamen.
Since then the opposition supporters have stayed off Tehran streets but their leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have sought to hold a rally on Monday in support of Arab uprisings in the region.
But critics say their plan is to garner their supporters and attempt to stage an anti-government demonstrations.
Iran’s elite military force, the Revolutionary Guards, have warned against holding the rally, while the family and relatives of Karroubi have reportedly been barred from meeting the cleric at his home.