Mousavi supporters clash with police in Tehran

Mousavi supporters clash with police in Tehran. Afghan policeman kills five British troops in Helmand province. The US delegation to Burma meets Aug San Suu Kyi. The US Congress rejects Goldstone Report. All this and more in today’s security briefing.
Rukeyya Khan
4 November 2009

Iranian police clashed with supporters of Iran's opposition leader, Mirhossein Mousavi, on Wednesday during a rally marking the thirtieth anniversary of the storming of the US embassy. Hundreds of pro-Mousavi protesters chanting 'Death to dictators' were dispersed by Iranian security forces. Witnesses say the police used batons and fired teargas to disperse the crowd. Reports suggest that at least five protestors were arrested.

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Loyal supporters of the Iranian Revolution had stormed the embassy on 4 November 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Anti-Western rallies commonly take place outside the old US embassy to mark the anniversary of the day it was seized. Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia had warned the opposition to avoid using anti-US rallies to revive protests against June's disputed presidential elections in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term.

The ToD verdict: Allegations of fraud during the 12 June presidential elections have repeatedly prompted mass demonstrations and subsequent crackdowns on opposition members. The fresh protests today are reported to have been called for by Mousavi himself, who told his supporters this week that the anniversary is a ‘rendezvous so we [the Iranian people] would remember anew that among us it is the people who are the leaders.'

It appears the Iranian opposition is beginning to hijack official rallies to protest against the clerical establishment. Previously, the opposition used the official Quds Day rally in support of the Palestinians on 18 September to stage a similar protest. Rallies endorsed by the state have become a focal point of tension with grassroots opposition supporters staging protests to highlight their grievances and to show that they are still very much active. Opposition websites had been calling for a major turnout though independent verification of the size of today's protests is difficult to ascertain. Defying the authorities, many marchers wore green scarves and wristbands symbolic of the Mousavi campaign.

In response, the authorities closed metro stations and the mobile telephone system appeared to have been shut down to prevent demonstrators from communicating. State-controlled media showed pictures of anti-US demonstrators only. Outside of the embassy, hard-line lawmaker Golam Ali Haddad Adel denounced the US as an enemy of Iran and condemned opposition leaders as dangerous for the country, claiming that they aid Iran's perceived enemies.

The Revolutionary Guards and other elements of the clerical establishment including the Guardian Council have called on the masses to be conscious of protests that are the work of malcontents linked to ‘foreign oppressors.' Media agencies loyal to the regime have also warned of 'foreign media hype.' The scale of these warnings suggests that the authorities are worried.

Meanwhile, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri denounced on Wednesday the capture of the US embassy as a mistake. In a statement posted on his website, Montazeri said that the hostage crisis had many 'negative repercussions' including the creation of animosity towards Iran among the American people. This reinterpretation of events comes at a time when Iran is locked in a dispute with the international community over its nuclear programme, which it claims is essential to meeting civilian energy needs. Speaking before the anniversary, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei criticized the US's stance in ongoing negotiations, claiming that Iran does not want 'any negotiation, the result of which is pre-determined by the United States.'

In a statement marking the anniversary, President Obama said the outside world has ‘heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question now is what kind of future it is for.'

Afghan policeman kills five British troops

An Afghan policeman turned and fired without warning at his colleagues and British soldiers during training, killing five British troops at a checkpoint in Nad-e'Ali district of the Helmand province on Tuesday. The death of three Grenadier Guards and two Royal Military Policemen brings the total number of British troop fatalities to 229. The gunman fled and is now being hunted by British soldiers. Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to the ‘courage, skill and determination' of British troops as he reiterated his support for the war effort in Afghanistan. The incident has raised concerns about discipline within the Afghan forces and possible infiltration by insurgents.

Meanwhile in Britain, former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has called for the withdrawal of British troops in Helmand in favour of a concentrated effort to tackle terrorists through intelligence gathering. Howells, who had ministerial responsibility for the country and now heads the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, says he would like to see greater cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies and the expansion of UK intelligence operations abroad.

Elsewhere, the US has reportedly issued President Karzai with a six-month ultimatum to reduce corruption or risk losing American support. According to Afghan officials, the Obama administration wants changes in Karzai's Cabinet and personal staff.

U.S. delegation meets Aung San Suu Kyi

American diplomats met with Aug San Suu Kyi, Burma's detained opposition leader, as part of Washington's highest-level visit to the country in fourteen years. The meeting offered the 64-year old Nobel peace laureate her first trip outside of the confines of her home. The topics of discussion are not known.

The two-day trip by American officials has been described as a ‘fact-finding' mission by the US State Department and analysts say it is unlikely anything substantive will emerge from the exploratory dialogues. So far, the American delegation has met with senior leaders of the ruling junta and is expected to meet with leaders of the opposition National League for Democracy later on Wednesday.

The Obama administration has sought to reverse the Bush administration's isolation of Burma by promoting reforms through engagement and high-level talks.

US Congress rejects Goldstone Report

The US House of Representatives has rejected the findings of a UN-sponsored report which criticized Israel for the crimes it committed in its military assault on the Gaza Strip earlier this year. The House voted 344 to 36 in favour a resolution urging President Barack Obama to maintain his opposition to the report, which was described as 'irredeemably biased.' According to the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the report 'paints a distorted picture' and 'epitomizes the practice of singling Israel out from all other nations for condemnation.'

Elsewhere, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called again for a complete settlement freeze of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Clinton called the settlements illegitimate on Wednesday following talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, her last stop on a tour of the region.

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