TEHRAN (AFP) – Thousands of young Iranians proclaimed “Death to America” on Sunday as they celebrated the 28th anniversary of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran by student radicals.
A massive crowd, composed mainly of schoolchildren bussed in to central Tehran, gathered outside the site of the former US embassy, known locally as the “Den of Spies.”
“Death to America! Death to Israel!” the young people shouted, wearing bibs that depicted the burning of the US and Israeli flags.
Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, in a keynote address, hailed the embassy seizure as “a great and glorious event” from which Iranians were still drawing inspiration.
But he also cautioned Iranians to cut down on consumption to deflect what he called the latest plot of Iran’s arch enemy the United States — namely sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
“We have to devise very clear plans so the pace of our progress is not stopped.
“All of us in our households can bring down our consumption expenditure by 10 percent. Our culture of consumption needs to be changed. We need to send a call to the young people,” he said.
Pour Mohammadi described warnings of US military action against Iran as a “joke,” but also called on Iranians to show “national solidarity” in order to defeat the plots.
The interior minister gave the address after unexpectedly replacing former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani who had been announced as the main speaker by official notices last week.
The young people gathered for the protest denounced the United States and said relations could only be possible if they were on an equal basis.
“By being here I am doing my religious duty, and by being here I am saying I hate the bullying powers, especially the United States and Israel,” said 18-year-old seminary student Esmaeel Mohammadi.
Reihaneh Deqipour, 16, said: “My coming here is a sign I am ready to defend my country and slap the United States in the face, and I’m ready to defend the country to the last drop of my blood.
“Relations with the United States are fine as long as we are equals,” she added.
A major shadow is still cast by the seizure of the embassy on November 4, 1979 in the wake of the Islamic revolution that toppled pro-US shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Washington officially broke off diplomatic relations during the crisis, a rupture that has yet to be healed. Iran still lauds the seizure as a revolutionary act while Washington condemns it as an abuse of human rights.
The students took more than 60 US diplomats, marines and other expatriate staff hostage, immediately triggering the collapse of the government of moderate prime minister Mehdi Bazargan.
They allowed 13 Americans who were women or of African-American origin to leave two weeks later. But 52 remaining staff were released only in January 1981 after 444 days in captivity.
The participants claim they thought the seizure would only last a few days, but the support of the Iranian public and above all of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini encouraged them to carry on.
Many of the leading participants such as Massoumeh Ebtekar, Abbas Abdi, and Mohsen Mirdamadi have gone on to become reformists highly critical of the conservative government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
They have openly mocked US claims that Ahmadinejad was involved in the embassy seizure.