A day of confusion, violence, anguish and disappointment. Arriving at anything like the truth is very difficult given the restrictions on reporting, but it appears the authorities were well prepared for trouble and responded as brutally as they could – stopping short, however, of all-out bloodshed.
One might say the opposition was somewhat naive not to expect the Revolutionary Guards and basij to be out in strength where they announced they were to hold their demonstration. And so it proved, with the the main squares such as Azadi ringed off by the security forces.
Not only that but – a sign of the thought that had gone into the security operation – the guards and basij then worked hard to stop large groups of demonstrators coalescing. One can see this not just as making it easier to control the demonstrators, but also to prevent the world from seeing wholesale repudiation of Khamaniei’s Friday payers speech by massed ranks of Iranians. Also it meant another important facet of the opposition campaign – it’s Gandhi-like peacefulness – went out of the window as frustration finally boiled over and cars, buses and some building – including one used by Ahmadinejad supporters – were set on fire. In addition there were open cries of “Death to Khamenei”.
In part the authorities were helped by the fact that, clearly, Khamenei’s threat to come down hard had persuaded many souls to stay indoors, so there were not the numbers in the first place.
The level of violence appeared to be not far short of outright brutality, but clearly the security forces held something in reserve, so we did not end up with another “Jaleh square massacre” – something that may have been in the authorities’ minds in doing so. But they did employ some “innovative” lines of attack, including reportedly bombarding demonstrators from helicopters with what people initially thought was boiling water, but was more likely water containing some kind of chemical irritant. It was also reportedly put in the water fired at protesters from water cannons. Huge amounts of tear gas were used and it is said that security forces used paintball guns to mark protesters for later arrest.
There were deaths, one of a young woman dramatically played out on video, but impossible to say how many. Hospitals were reportedly screaming g for blood donations, but in the Twittersphere warnings were constantly issued that any injured demonstrators going to hospitals were being picked up by the authorities. Instead many people were going to embassies and asking them to take them in. The Twitter feed at one point became a litany of embassies that apparently were taking people in and those that were not.
Some arrested students were later put on Iranian TV, where they put the blame on the outlawed Mujahedin Khalq organisation.
It is also clear that similar if not worse violence took place away from the world’s limited gaze in Iran’s other main centres.
— A suicide bomber was reported to have attacked Khomein’s shrine south of Tehran, killing himself and injuring two others. The true circumstances behind the attack remain a complete mystery.
— Moussavi reportedly joined some of the demonstrators and told them he had prepared himself for martyrdom. He also urged Iranians, if he was ever arrested, to launch a general strike. Later according to several websites like this one, he issued a similarly defiant statement challenging the authorities.
— President Obama maintained his “measured” response to the unfolding drama, but stepped up the rhetoric a notch by challenging the Iranian authorities to halt a “violent and unjust” crackdown on dissenters. AP reports.