Tehran, June 19 (Reuters): Scores of police, riot police and hardline Islamic militants patrolled several neighbourhoods of the Iranian capital early today as authorities tried to snuff out pro-democracy protests that have lasted nine nights.
Despite a pledge to protesters from US President George W. Bush that Washington “stands squarely by their side” the demonstrations against Islamic clerical rule appeared to have all but fizzled out.
In the working class eastern suburb Tehran Pars, riot police stood at key intersections and hardline militants who are fiercely loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei scrutinised the occupants of cars carrying would-be protesters.
“It’s like martial law. You’re scared to go anywhere at night in case they stop you and search you,” said one man as he edged his car nervously through the traffic-clogged streets under the watchful gaze of the bearded militants.
A Reuters correspondent saw one young man being led by riot police towards a pick-up truck where other detainees were already lying down in the back.
The heavy security presence, which follows rampaging attacks on students and demonstrators by hardline vigilantes wielding batons, knives and chains last Friday, appeared to be having the desired effect.
The occasional rhythmic blaring of car horns was the only sign of protest and even that was rare. One police officer held a handful of car license plates, apparently confiscated from drivers who had been too heavy handed with their horns.
Despite the dwindling turnout for the protests analysts expect them to flare again in the run-up to the July 9 anniversary of violent attacks by hardline vigilantes on a Tehran University dormitory in 1999.
Iran’s reformist President Mohammad Khatami said yesterday he was proud those opposed to Islamic rule could only muster a few hundred protesters.
It was the first time Khatami had spoken of the unrest in which students and ordinary people, impatient with the lack of progress on reform, vented their anger on both the President and hardline clerics who have blocked his reforms.