(AP)TEHRAN, Iran – Thousands of Iranians marked the 24th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by chanting anti-American slogans and burning U.S. and Israeli flags.
Tuesday’s turnout was larger than that of previous years, reflecting tensions over President Bush’s allegations that Iran supports terrorism and is trying to build nuclear weapons.
Hard-line cleric Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri told the crowd that the Washington is once again meddling in Iran’s internal affairs. Many Iranians blame American interference for the events of 1979.
“Assuming that Iran’s new youth generation does not remember the 1979 revolution and will not support the Islamic establishment, the Americans have been encouraging riots with their final aim being regime change,” Nateq Nouri said.
He was referring to student-led protests in June in which protesters called for the overthrow of the ruling Islamic establishment. Authorities arrested 4,000 people, some of them students, and unleashed hard-line vigilantes to silence the protesters. Almost all the detainees have been freed.
“This establishment will not collapse if a number of foolish people take to the streets,” said Nateq Nouri, a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Tuesday’s protesters chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” — while burning an effigy of President Bush. Most were militant students, like those who stormed the embassy in 1979, holding 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.
International pressure on Iran to come clean on its nuclear program has angered hard-liners, who organized demonstrations in past weeks rejecting demands for greater cooperation with U.N. inspectors.
Faced with the possibility of U.N. sanctions, Iran relented in late October, agreeing to unfettered inspections of its nuclear facilities and giving the U.N. atomic watchdog a report on its activities.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is seen a leader of the hard-liners, said Sunday he approved that step but warned that “excessive demands” would prompt Iran to stop cooperation.
Unelected hard-liners control the levers of power in Iran and have blocked most attempts by the elected government to reform the country’s Islamic regime. Khamenei has final say in all matters.
The 1979 embassy takeover was a protest against Washington’s decision to give refuge to deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whom the revolutionary government wanted to stand trial in Iran.
Many Iranians, including reformists, still resent the U.S. government for its role in a coup that toppled the populist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 and its support of Pahlavi during the 1979 Islamic revolution.