Sunday, June 21, 2009

The week that shook Iran - A brief overview (AP)

It's already hard to keep track of the kaleidoscopic rush of events since the Iran's presidential election on June 12. For handy reference and preliminary stock-taking ... here's a nice day-by-day summing-up of the first week of Iran's political upheaval from the Associated Press.

Stay tuned for next week ...

--Jeff Weintraub

Associated Press
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Gunfire, euphoria: week that shook Iran

A protest song from decades ago rings out from the green-clad crowds supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi. Motorcycles weave through Tehran with backers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waving Iranian flags. Protesters run wildly from the sound of gunshots.

The epic events in Iran have brought countless images to the world — many of them iconic scenes that will become part of history; others are the small but powerful vignettes that will be tucked away as personal narratives.

The AP gives a street-level view of a week that shook Iran.

Friday, June 12

Election Day and the excitement in Tehran is palpable. Never mind the broiling heat. Never mind the long lines. Bearded men, women in headscarves — no one seems to complain. Families bring their children to the polling stations in a carnival atmosphere. Their enthusiasm is striking. People seem genuinely eager to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. After all, this is what Iranians fought for in the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah and installed the Islamic republic — even though 60 percent of the population is too young to remember the struggle. As the day fades, however, signs of conflict loom. Soon after the polls close, Mousavi declares he has won. The government news agency then proclaims President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner. Young Ahmadinejad supporters cruise through the streets on motorbikes, waving Iranian flags and shouting "Mousavi is dead." Battle lines are drawn.

Saturday, June 13

Yesterday's euphoria is gone. The day begins with an ominous calm. Mobile phones and the Internet — the opposition's main organizing tools — no longer function. At Mousavi's headquarters, volunteers are in shock. They tell journalists that government militiamen attacked their office overnight and fired tear gas on Vali Asr Street. Angry Mousavi supporters, some wearing makeshift green masks, set fire to mounds of tires and torch a bus. Riot police in body armor swarm Tehran's wide, leafy streets, blocking traffic and beating protesters — men and women — with rubber truncheons. News photographers cruise the streets in cars, snapping images from open windows before speeding away to elude the police. Still, life goes on, with shoppers wandering through stores in one block while protesters battle police in another. The whole city smells of burning tires.

Sunday, June 14

The fissures in Iranian society are laid bare. A confident Ahmadinejad appears before the media, comparing the protesters to soccer hooligans. A few minutes walk away, young men are setting fire to piles of tires to block the police. It's a tactic used a generation ago in the uprising against the shah. But not every Iranian supports the opposition. In Vali Asr Square, thousands cheer Ahmadinejad. A woman weeps with emotion when the president appears. As night falls, some neighborhoods are alight with bonfires or trash cans set ablaze. From the roofs, residents hurl stones at the police or chant "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," the battle cry of the 1979 revolution. Sidewalks in front of bank offices are littered with broken glass. Ringtones of mobile phones echo through the streets as Iranians call their friends to trade information. Gunfire crackled through streets of a few neighborhoods — probably police or militiamen firing in the air to disperse crowds. At one hotel, a middle-aged desk clerk complains that the Iranian people have been wronged. Opposition is clearly spreading beyond the young, Westernized class in trendy north Tehran.

Monday, June 15

Mousavi calls his followers to a mass rally at Revolution Square. But will they come? Protests so far have been small. The risk of arrest or a beating is great. By mid-afternoon, tens of thousands of people march to the square, chanting "death to dictatorship" and "where's my vote?" It's people power — Iranian style. Journalists mingle freely among the crowd, protected from the police by the sheer numbers. Government militiamen and riot police relax nearby. Neither the government nor the organizers want violence. Protest leaders urge the crowd to march silently and flash the "V for victory" sign. For the most part, the crowd complies. A protester points to two large men among the crowd. "Take their picture," he urges a photographer. "They are the ones beating people." Sounds of pre-revolutionary protest songs unheard in public for decades waft through the square. When Mousavi's convoy appears, the crowd swarms around it, chanting his name. All sorts of people are there — grandmothers, government workers, clerics, women in black chador robes, taxi drivers, hip young adults. Suddenly, shots ring out. People begin to run wildly. State media reports seven people were killed. One of the victims — a middle-aged man in khaki trousers and a white shirt — is carried through the crowd with a gaping head wound.

Tuesday, June 16

The Culture Ministry telephones international news organizations and bans them from reporting from the streets. Foreign journalists are told their visas will not be renewed and they must leave the country. Nevertheless, thousands of Mousavi supporters pour into the streets. Iranians turn to social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr to send reports and post shaky images from mobile phones on the Internet. Callers tell news agencies that the crowd along Vali Asr avenue stretches for a mile. Mousavi urges supporters on his Web site not to resort to violence and calls for another mass rally Wednesday. Ahmadinejad attends a regional summit in Russia, seeking to portray confidence.

Wednesday, June 17

With foreign television crews shut down, Iranians post amateur video on the Internet showing thousands marching along an overpass in Tehran in support of Mousavi. Marchers flash the victory sign or carry placards. In a show of solidarity with Mousavi, several Iranian soccer players wear green tape on their wrists — the color of the opposition — during a World Cup qualifying match in South Korea that was televised in Iran. Nighttime cries of "Allahu akbar" ring out even louder than before.

Thursday, June 18

Mousavi calls his followers back to the streets to protest the election and mourn those killed in clashes. Many protesters wear black — the color of mourning — with green headbands and scarves. The protest is largely silent. A few men recognized as members of the secret police mingle in the crowd, watching but not interfering. One person in the crowd is overheard telling the plainclothes police that the protests won't last and opponents will grow tired of marches. Mobile phone service goes down again in the capital.

Friday, June 19

One week after the voting, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warns the opposition to end street protests and declares that the results of the disputed balloting will surely stand. Nightfall brings cries of "Death to the dictator!" and "Allahu akbar." But the stern warning pushes the opposition movement into a pivotal moment: either back down or risk a crushing response from police and the security forces. Mousavi and his allies take stock and plan a strategy that will have enormous implications for Iran and the world.

Associated Press journalists and other witnesses in Tehran contributed to this report.