TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Thousands of Iranians chanted “Death to America” on Saturday outside the former U.S. embassy that students stormed on this day in 1979, reaffirming Iran’s defiance as it faces possible sanctions for its nuclear work.
Iran sees itself being targeted by an aggressive United States bent on controlling the Middle East and exacting revenge for overthrowing the U.S.-backed shah 27 years ago.
Washington wants the United Nations Security Council to toughen a draft resolution drawn up by Britain, France and Germany for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.
Russia and China want the draft watered down while Iran says its atomic programme is entirely peaceful. “Unfortunately, America has not learned its lesson from the takeover of its embassy, they should know that threats and sanctions do not affect the will of this great nation,” parliamentary speaker Gholamali Haddadadel told protesters. “Nuclear energy is our certain right,” the crowd responded.
Demonstrators burnt U.S. and Israeli flags as well as effigies of Uncle Sam and U.S. President George W. Bush outside the former embassy which state media calls the “nest of spies”. It is now a base for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“We are here to punch America in the mouth,” student Mohsen Abdullahi said. “We want to tell the Americans and British they are nothing in the face of Iran’s power.”
Many high school students had been let out of class to attend the annual demonstration and while the crowd appeared to number up to 10,000, turnout was not as big as previous years.
Protesters carried banners proclaiming “death to America”, “death to Israel” and “America is the Great Satan”.
Student Amir Hossein Ebrahimi, 14, wore camouflage fatigues.
“I wore this to tell the Americans that Iranians are always ready to join the army and defend our country,” he said.
Pressing home that message, Iran on Thursday started 10 days of military exercises off its southern coast and said it had test fired new and improved missiles. Tehran says all the Gulf’s vital oil shipping lanes are now within range of its weaponry.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards tested a new generation of anti-tank, anti-helicopter and anti-personnel weaponry during Saturday’s manoeuvres.
“By relying on God, the Revolutionary Guards will use different types of modern equipment and advanced tactics to destroy the enemies’ advanced systems,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted the Guards’ land forces commander Brigadier-General Mohammad Reza Zahedi as saying. “We hope the enemies have no ominous intentions and will not repeat their past experiences,” he said.
Hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has spearheaded Tehran’s defiance of U.S. efforts to impose sanctions against Iran.
Since he came to power a year ago, Ahmadinejad has also reversed the former administration’s drive to reform the Islamic Republic and bring in more open government.
Many of the radical student leaders who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 and held dozens of diplomats hostage for 444 days are now among the most liberal Iranian reformists.
Ahmadinejad, a leader of one student faction 27 years ago, at first opposed the U.S. embassy seizure. He proposed taking over the Soviet embassy instead, leading hostage-takers say.