TEHRAN (AFP) – Thousands of Iranians chanted “Death to America” as they staged Thursday a mass protest against the “Great Satan” to mark the 31st anniversary of the capture of the American embassy by Islamist students.
Waving Iranian flags and carrying anti-US banners alongside posters of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the largely young crowd also shouted anti-Israel slogans.
Banners saying “I will give my life for the leader (Khamenei)” and another quoting Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as saying, “If you want to shout, shout at the US”, were displayed at the closed embassy compound in central Tehran, an AFP correspondent reported.
Iran annually on November 4 marks the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy by Islamist students in Tehran in 1979, months after the Islamic revolution which toppled the US-backed shah.
The embassy has remained closed and the US and Iran have had no diplomatic ties since then.
The students, who took 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days, said they were responding to Washington’s refusal to hand over the deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Ezatollah Eragami, the keynote speaker at the rally and one of the 1979 hostage takers, hit out at US President Barack Obama over Washington’s foreign policy.
“Obama has acted very weakly and badly when it comes to his foreign policy,” Eragami, who now heads Iranian state media, told the cheering crowd.
“The reason for that is that he is using an array of advisers who are exhausted bureaucrats.”
The organisers of Thursday’s anti-US demonstration, in their final declaration, said that Iran considers “America as the Great Satan and enemy number one.”
“The government and people must be alert towards the mercenary and anti-Islamic policy of America.”
This year’s anti-US demonstration, one of the cornerstones of the Islamic regime, came days before expected nuclear talks which will see US and Iranian officials sitting at the same table for discussions on Tehran’s controversial atomic programme.
The US, along with Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany, suspect Iran’s atomic drive is aimed at making weapons, a charge denied by Tehran. The two sides are expected to meet later this month to discuss the controversy.
US-Iranian animosity rose markedly during the tenure of former US president George W. Bush, who lumped Iran as part of an “axis of evil” along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
The bitterness between the two nations has risen further since 2005, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office. The hardliner repeatedly launches anti-US tirades.
Iran’s Khamenei, the all-powerful leader of the Islamic republic, has made it clear he still distrusts the United States despite Bush successor Obama’s initial diplomatic overtures towards Tehran.
On Wednesday, Khamenei again praised the embassy takeover 31 years ago and expressed his distrust of US leaders.
“This act is the symbol of courage and intrepidness of the young revolutionary generation against the grandeur of America, because the capture of the den of spies (US embassy) destabilised the power of America,” he told a gathering of students on the eve of the anniversary.
“The declarations made by American presidents at different times appear to be friendly and soft, but in fact they are like an iron hand in velvet gloves,” the country’s commander-in-chief said.
Over the past three decades, many Iranians who led the storming of the embassy have become severe critics of the regime they helped to establish.
Some of the main participants of the embassy takeover, such as Massoumeh Ebtekar, Abbas Abdi and Mohsen Mirdamadi, have become reformists highly critical of the conservative government of Ahmadinejad.
Mirdamadi, who played a key role in the embassy capture, is now in prison accused of trying to topple the government after the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Abdi too has served time in jail for his work on opinion polls indicating that Iranians want to re-establish diplomatic relations with the United States.