TEHRAN, Iran - Iranian students staged a rare demonstration Monday against
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, lighting a firecracker and burning his photograph
as he delivered a speech at their university, the state news agency reported.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
speaks during a press conference in Tehran, November 2006. Six major
powers resumed talks on how to coerce Iran into halting its nuclear fuel
work as Moscow welcomed changes to a European resolution mandating UN
sanctions against Tehran.[AFP]
The hard-line leader responded calmly when a small group of students in a
crowded hall at Amir Kabir Technical University started chanting "Death to the
dictator!" the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"We have resisted dictatorship for many years - from before the 1979
Islamic Revolution," Ahmadinejad said, according to the agency. "Nobody can
bring back a dictatorship even in the name of freedom."
Anti-government protests have been extremely rare since Ahmadinejad was
elected in 2005 - even in universities which were once a stronghold of the
pro-reform movement. Reformists had already been deeply demoralized before his
victory, pushed out of power by hard-liners in Iran's cleric-led government.
The disturbances began when a group of students started chanting during the
speech. One held up a poster that read: "Fascist president, the Polytechnic is
not a place for you."
They held an Ahmadinejad picture up and set it alight, then a student set off
Ahmadinejad supporters in the audience began to chant in response, silencing
the protesters. The president then continued his speech.
No arrests were reported.
Ahmadinejad has moved to squeeze out liberal and secular university
professors and has threatened an outright purge. He named a cleric to head
Tehran University for the first time, and dozens of liberal professors were sent
into retirement in the past year, though many still remain in their positions.
Last week, hundreds of opposition students in University of Tehran staged a
short demonstration, demanding more freedoms.
Iran's reform movement peaked in the late 1990s after pro-reform President
Mohammad Khatami was elected and his supporters swept parliament. But
hard-liners who control the judiciary, security forces and powerful unelected
bodies in the government stymied attempts to ease social and political
Numerous pro-reform newspapers were shut down, and since Ahmadinejad's
election those that remain have been muted in their criticism, fearing closure.
A few months ago the government banned a newspaper that had satirized
Ahmadinejad in a cartoon.