By Farnaz Fassihi and Chip Cummins, online.wsj.com
Nov 4 — Iranian security forces battled with opposition protesters in Tehran Wednesday, after demonstrators used the 30th anniversary of the storming of the U.S. Embassy as cover for their first significant protest in weeks.
The scale of the opposition protests — and the government crackdown — was unclear early Wednesday, but wire services and state-controlled media reported police using tear gas and clashing violently with protesters. Iran has largely banned media coverage of non-sanctioned rallies and protests, and international newswires with reporters in the country must rely on eyewitness accounts.
Still, initial reports suggest large antiregime protests erupted in several locations across Tehran. Large crowds of demonstrators gathered in central districts of the capital near the former U.S. embassy, where an annual pro-government rally was also taking place, according to eyewitnesses and video posted on Iranian websites.
Antiriot police on motorcycle and on foot chased the crowd with batons and plain-clothed Basij militia attacked demonstrators with wooden sticks, according to these accounts.
At one point, one crowd of protesters turned its message toward the American President Barack Obama, chanting, “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them.”
Basij forces attacked opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi, firing teargas at him, according to Mohamad Taghi Karroubi, the cleric’s son, in a post on the opposition’s “Mowjcamp” Web site. Mr. Karroubi suffered light skin injury, but one of his bodyguards was seriously injured and was take to the hospital, according to the account. It wasn’t possible to immediately verify the incident.
“Today the government of the coup proved once again that it will stop at nothing to crush the massive wave of demonstrations,” said a statement by the opposition posted on their Web site.
Some marchers through Tehran’s streets wore green clothing that symbolized the campaign of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi. It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Mousavi was among the protestors.
At Tehran University, students brought down President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s picture to whooping cheers and chants of “God is Great,” according to video posts circulating on the Internet.
Witnesses told the Associated Press that security forces, mainly paramilitary units from the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, swept through several hundred demonstrators at Haft-e-Tir Square in central Tehran, clubbing, kicking and slapping protesters.
The unrest provides another significant challenge for Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran’s conservative clerical leadership, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For months, the regime has struggled to put a lid on simmering unrest, which erupted after contested presidential elections in June, in which Mr. Ahmadinejad was declared the landslide victor.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s attempts at enforcing domestic calm come amid unrest along its restive border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, where antigovernment rebels have stepped up a violent campaign against the regime, killing several senior Revolutionary Guard commanders last month.
At the same time, Tehran officials are negotiating with Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program. The fresh protests come as Mr. Ahmadinejad and other leaders have tried to present a unified front in its deliberations with the West.
After appearing to agree to a deal to send out the bulk of its fissile material for enrichment in Russia, Iranian officials have balked at ratifying the agreement, frustrating Washington and its allies. Western officials have warned they won’t wait forever for progress in talks, suggesting an end-of-year deadline.
After that, Washington has suggested it will push for tough new economic sanctions, and Israeli officials have long suggested they would consider a military strike if they felt Iran was close to building a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
In the days immediately following the election, supporters of presidential candidates Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister, and senior cleric Mahdi Karroubi, took to the streets, staging the regime’s largest antigovernment demonstrations since the founding of the Islamic Republic thirty years ago.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government cracked down violently, clashing with protesters and jailing scores. Government officials put the death toll at several dozen, though human-rights groups have claimed the number of deaths was much higher. The government has put on trial more than a hundred people it alleges agitated against the regime, in cahoots with foreign powers such as the U.S. and Britain.
The bloody crackdown quieted most large street protests by the end of the summer. But opposition leaders, organizing underground, have increasingly hijacked state-sponsored holidays and rallies to come back out on the streets in force. In September, antigovernment protesters spilled out into the streets during Quds Day, a state-sponsored holiday aimed at rallying support for the Palestinians and condemning Israel.