Thousands of Iranians mark revolution anniversary amid peak tensions with U.S.

DUBAI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran and other cities on Tuesday morning to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, against a backdrop of escalating tensions with the United States.

State TV showed video footage of rallies in at least half a dozen cities outside the capital, including Mashhad, Ahvaz and Kerman, with people holding signs that read, “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.

Iran almost got into a full-blown conflict with the United States last month after a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to retaliate with a missile barrage against a U.S. base in Iraq days later.

Tensions spiked between Iran and the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a bid to pressure Tehran to negotiate over its ballistic missile program and ties with regional proxy groups.

Missiles were put on display as part of the anniversary celebrations, according to the Tasnim news agency. Iran’s state TV showed archival footage of missile launches and underground missile storage facilities as part of its anniversary coverage.

The missile program is not intended for attacks on neighboring countries, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Iranians chant ‘Death to America’ to mark U.S. embassy seizure

Iranians chant ‘Death to America’ to mark U.S. embassy seizure
DUBAI (Reuters) – Thousands of Iranians chanted “Death to America” near the old U.S. embassy on Monday, the 40th anniversary on the seizure of the mission, with the country’s army chief comparing the United States with a poisonous scorpion intent on harming Iran.

State television showed crowds packing the streets around the former mission, dubbed the “den of spies” after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Marches and rallies were being held in some 1,000 communities across the country, state media said.

Hardline Islamist students stormed the embassy soon after the fall of the U.S.-backed shah, and 52 Americans were held hostage there for 444 days. The two countries have been enemies ever since.

“Our fight with America is over our independence, over not submitting to bullying, over values, beliefs and our religion,” army chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said in a speech at the rally outside the former embassy.

“They (Americans) will continue their hostilities, like the proverbial poisonous scorpion whose nature it is to sting and cannot be stopped unless it is crushed,” Mousavi said in remarks carried by state TV.

On Sunday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei renewed a ban on talks with the United States, describing the two countries as implacable foes.

“Those who believe that negotiations with the enemy will solve our problems are 100% wrong,” he said.

Meanwhile, Iran’s parliament gave initial approval to a measure requiring schoolbooks to inform students about “America’s crimes”. Lawmakers also chanted “Death to America”.

Relations between the two countries have reached a crisis over the past year since U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 pact between Iran and world powers under which it accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions.

The United States has reimposed sanctions aimed at halting all Iranian oil exports, saying it seeks to force it to negotiate to reach a wider deal.

Khamenei has banned Iranian officials from holding talks unless the United States returns to the nuclear deal and lifts all sanctions.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean)

As revolution turns 40, Iran taunts U.S., vaunts military

Iranians burn U.S. flags during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2019. Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians marched and some burned U.S. flags on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the triumph of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shi’ite cleric who toppled the Shah in an Islamic Revolution that rattles the West to this day.

On Feb 11, 1979, Iran’s army declared its neutrality, paving the way for the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East.

 

Iranian people gather during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2019. Masoud Shahrestani/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

Iranian people gather during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2019. Masoud Shahrestani/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

State TV showed crowds defying cold rainy weather and carrying Iranian flags while shouting “Death to Israel, Death to America,” trademark chants of the revolution which ousted the United States’ most important ally in the Middle East.

“Much to the dismay of America, the revolution has reached its 40th year,” read one banner.

Soldiers, students, clerics and black-clad women holding small children thronged streets across Iran, many carrying portraits of Khomeini, who died in 1989, and Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The large turnout in state-sponsored rallies came as Iranians face mounting economic hardships many blame on the country’s clerical leaders.

Last year, Iran cracked down on protests over poor living standards that posed the most serious challenge to its clerical leadership since a 2009 uprising over disputed elections.

Prices of basic foodstuffs, particularly meat, have soared since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions.

In January, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran was facing its worst economic crisis since the Shah was toppled. But he remained defiant as Iranians recalled the end of a monarch who catered to the rich and unleashed secret police on dissenters.

In a speech at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) square, Rouhani said U.S. efforts to isolate Iran would fail.

“We will not let America become victorious. Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties but we will overcome the problems by helping each other,” he said.

Iranians burn U.S. flags during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2019. Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

Iranians burn U.S. flags during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2019. Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

U.S. AND ISRAELI “DOGS”

Marchers carried cardboard cutouts of dogs. One had the face of Trump and the other the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yadollah Javani, the Revolutionary Guards’s deputy head for political affairs, said Iran would demolish cities in Israel to the ground if the United States attacked the Islamic Republic.

“The United States does not have the courage to shoot a single bullet at us despite all its defensive and military assets,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

State TV showed a cartoon of the Shah being thrown into the “dustbin of history”, wearing clothes in U.S. colors and holding Iranian newspapers headlined “The Shah has left!”

Khomeini returned from exile in France two weeks after the Shah and his wife flew to Aswan, Egypt. He was greeted by millions of supporters in Tehran. Revolutionaries later began executing supporters of the Shah including four top generals.

Washington and the Arab world have viewed Iran with

great suspicion since the Islamic Revolution, fearing Khomeini’s radical ideology would inspire militants across the Middle East.

Today, the United States and its Arab allies are trying to counter Tehran’s growing influence in the Middle East, where it has proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

“The world saw when Iran decided to help people of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen, they achieved victory. The enemies are now confessing to their defeat,” said Rouhani.

Some Iranians criticize their leaders for what they say are foreign adventures which squander funds. Iranian leaders say they are protecting national interests.

Tehran was determined to expand its military power despite pressure from hostile states, Rouhani said.

Iran displayed its ballistic missile capabilities during a parade marking the anniversary, including the Zolfaqar, a ground-to-ground missile with a 700 km (435 miles) range and the Qiam, with a range of 800 km, according to Tasnim news agency.

Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the Revolutionary Guards deputy head, said Tehran would not withdraw forces from the region, dismissing U.S. calls for Iranian clout to be curbed.

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafeddin in London and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean)

‘Death to America’ aimed at Trump, not American nation, Iran leader says

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians will chant “Death to America” as long as Washington continues its hostile policies, but the slogan is directed at President Donald Trump and U.S. leaders, not the American nation, Iran’s supreme leader said on Friday.

“As long as America continues its wickedness, the Iranian nation will not abandon ‘Death to America’,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of Iranian Air Force officers marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, according to his official website.

Trump pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers last year and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran, dealing a blow to the country’s economy.

“‘Death to America’ means death to Trump, (National Security Adviser) John Bolton, and (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo. It means death to American rulers,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

European signatories of the nuclear deal have been trying to save the accord, but Khamenei said they could not be trusted.

“I recommend that one should not trust the Europeans just as the Americans,” Khamenei said. “We don’t say, don’t have contacts with them, but it’s an issue of trust.”

The European Union has stepped up criticism of Iran’s ballistic missiles program while remaining committed to the 2015 nuclear deal.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, editing by Larry King)

Iran’s first president says Khomeini betrayed 1979 Islamic revolution

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr attends an interview with Reuters in Versailles, near Paris, France, January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By John Irish and Michaela Cabrera

VERSAILLES, France (Reuters) – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini betrayed the principles of the Iranian revolution after sweeping to power in 1979, his first president told Reuters, leaving a “very bitter” taste among some of those who had returned with him to Tehran in triumph.

Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, a sworn opponent of Tehran’s clerical rulers ever since being driven from office and fleeing abroad in 1981, recalled how 40 years ago in Paris, he had been convinced that the religious leader’s Islamic revolution would pave the way for democracy and human rights after the rule of the Shah.

“When we were in France everything we said to him he embraced and then announced it like Koranic verses without any hesitation,” Bani-Sadr, now 85, said in an interview at his home in Versailles, outside Paris, where he has lived since 1981.

“We were sure that a religious leader was committing himself and that all these principles would happen for the first time in our history,” he said.

Khomeini fled Iran in the mid-1960s, fearing a crackdown on his teachings by the Shah, eventually settling in a modest house in a village outside Paris from where he fomented unrest in Iran and nurtured the future Islamist revolution.

Bani-Sadr, son of a senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric and a former student of economics in Paris, had close family ties with Khomeini and helped him move to France after periods in Turkey and Iraq, becoming one of his closest aides.

“France was the crossroads of ideas and information, which is why he picked it after Kuwait refused to take him,” Bani-Sadr said. “When he was in France he was on the side of freedom. He was scared that the movement wouldn’t reach its conclusion and he’d be forced to stay there.”

MULLAHS

For Western observers, at least, Khomenei appeared to endorse a more modern interpretation of Islam in which religion and politics were kept separate and Iran would move away from the Shah’s dictatorship, Bani-Sadr said.

“It was when he came down the steps from the plane in Iran where he changed … The mullahs got a hold of him and gave him a new destiny, which is the dictatorship we see today,” he said.

Bani-Sadr was elected president on Feb. 5, 1980, in a popular vote, but under the new Islamic Republic’s constitution, Khomenei wielded the real power – a situation that has continued since his death in 1989 under his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Bani-Sadr recounted how he went to see Khomenei, now known as the Supreme Leader, in the city of Qom a few months after their return to bemoan pressure from religious authorities to force women to wear the veil. He said this went against promises he made in Paris that women should have a right to choose.

“(Khomeini) told me he had said things in France that were convenient, but that he was not locked into everything he had said there and that if he felt it necessary to say the opposite he would,” Bani-Sadr said.

“For me it was a very, very bitter moment.”

Despite such disappointment and his long exile, Bani-Sadr said he did not regret having been part of the revolution.

But he warned that U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to bring Tehran to heel through economic sanctions would backfire, hurting ordinary Iranians while reinforcing the existing system.

“If Mr. Trump left Iran alone, you’d see that the system is a lot more fragile than one imagines. We don’t need a new revolution,” he said.

(Writing by John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones)

World Court hears Iran lawsuit to have U.S. sanctions lifted

By Stephanie van den Berg and Toby Sterling

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Iranian lawyers asked the International Court of Justice on Monday to order the United States to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration against Tehran, but Washington described the suit as meritless.

At the start of a week of hearings in The Hague, the court’s president asked the United States to respect the outcome of the case that Iran filed in July. During their decades of animosity, both countries have ignored some rulings at the court.

Tehran’s suit says the U.S. sanctions, which are damaging the already weak Iranian economy, violate terms of a little-known friendship treaty between the two countries.

“The U.S. is publicly propagating a policy intended to damage as severely as possible Iran’s economy and Iranian national companies, and therefore inevitably Iranian nationals,” said Mohsen Mohebi, representing Iran. “This policy is plainly in violation of the 1955 Treaty of Amity.”

He said Iran had sought a diplomatic solution to the countries’ dispute but was rejected.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Iran’s suit as “an attempt to interfere with the sovereign rights of the United States to take lawful actions, including re-imposition of sanctions, which are necessary to protect our national security”.

“We will vigorously defend against Iran’s meritless claims this week in The Hague,” he said in a statement.

A ruling is expected within a month, though no date has been set.

The ICJ is the United Nations tribunal for resolving international disputes. Its rulings are binding, but it has no power to enforce them.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 pact between Iran and major world powers under which sanctions were lifted in return for Tehran accepting curbs on its nuclear program. The Trump administration then announced unilateral plans to restore sanctions against Tehran.

Although Washington’s European allies protested against Trump’s move, most Western companies intend to adhere to the sanctions, preferring to lose business in Iran than be punished by the United States or barred from doing business there.

The United States and Iran have clashed at the court in the past since they became enemies after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran ignored a 1980 U.S. suit at the ICJ over the seizure of American diplomats in Tehran, which the court found to be illegal.

In another suit and countersuit, the ICJ found that the 1955 treaty was still valid even though it was signed before the revolution. However, the court found in 2003 that neither actions by the United States against Iranian oil platforms nor Iranian attacks on American shipping violated the treaty.

(Writing by Toby Sterling; Editing by David Goodman, Peter Graff and David Stamp)

Iran says Syria has every right to defend itself against Israel: TV

Missile fire is seen from Damascus, Syria. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran on Friday supported Syria’s right to defend itself against aggression from Israel, state TV reported, accusing others of remaining silent over the attacks on Tehran’s key regional ally.

“Iran strongly condemns …(Israel’s) attacks on Syria. The international community’s silence encourages Israel’s aggression. Syria has every right to defend itself,” the broadcaster quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.

Israel said it had attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time, in the most extensive military exchange ever between the two adversaries.

The confrontation came two days after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 multinational agreement aimed it curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

Tehran and its allied Shi’ite Muslim militias back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since its Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has refused to recognize Israel.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by John Stonestreet)

Iranian protesters attack police stations, raise stakes in unrest

Opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold a protest outside the Iranian embassy in west London, Britain December 31, 2017.

By Michael Georgy

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian protesters attacked police stations late into the night on Monday, news agency and social media reports said, as security forces struggled to contain the boldest challenge to the clerical leadership since unrest in 2009.

Videos on social media showed an intense clash in the central town of Qahderijan between security forces and protesters who were trying to occupy a police station, which was partially set ablaze. There were unconfirmed reports of several casualties among demonstrators.

In the western city of Kermanshah, protesters set fire to a traffic police post, but no one was hurt in the incident, Mehr news agency said.

Demonstrations continued for a fifth day. Some 13 people were reported killed on Sunday in the worst wave of unrest since crowds took to the streets in 2009 to condemn the re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The protests have put pressure on the clerical leaders in power since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. President Hassan Rouhani made a televised call for calm on Sunday, saying Iranians had the right to criticize but must not cause unrest.

In the central city of Najafabad, a demonstrator opened fire on police with a hunting rifle, killing one and wounding three others, state television said.

Earlier, state TV said armed demonstrators on Sunday had tried to seize police and military bases but were stopped by “strong resistance from security forces.” It gave no further details and there was no independent confirmation.

State TV had reported that 10 people were killed in protests on Sunday. On Monday, that death toll rose when the deputy governor of the western Hamadan Province, Saeed Shahrokhi, told ISNA news agency that another three protesters were killed on Sunday in the city of Tuyserkan.

“NO TOLERANCE”

Hundreds have been arrested, according to officials and social media. Online video showed police in the capital Tehran firing water cannon to disperse demonstrators, in footage said to have been filmed on Sunday.

Protests against economic hardships and alleged corruption erupted in Iran’s second city of Mashhad on Thursday and escalated across the country into calls for the religious establishment to step down.

Some of the anger was directed at Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, breaking a taboo surrounding the man who has been supreme leader of Iran since 1989.

Video posted on social media showed crowds of people walking through the streets, some chanting “Death to the dictator!” Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage. The Fars news agency reported “scattered groups” of protesters in Tehran on Monday and said a ringleader had been arrested.

“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public property, violate public order and create unrest in society,” Rouhani said in his address on Sunday.

Unsigned statements on social media urged Iranians to continue to demonstrate in 50 towns and cities.

The government said it was temporarily restricting access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram. There were reports that internet mobile access was blocked in some areas.

TRUMP, NETANYAHU VOICE SUPPORT

Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia. Many Iranians resent those foreign interventions, and want their leaders to create jobs at home, where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.

Among reported fatalities, two people were shot dead in the southwestern town of Izeh on Sunday and several others were injured, ILNA news agency quoted a member of parliament as saying.

“I do not know whether yesterday’s shooting was done by rally participants or the police and this issue is being investigated,” Hedayatollah Khademi was quoted as saying.

Regional governor Mostafa Samali told Fars that only one person was killed in an incident unrelated to the protests, and the suspected shooter had been arrested.

Almost nine years since the “Green movement” reformist protests were crushed by the state, Iran’s adversaries voiced their support for the resurgence of anti-government sentiment.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “brave Iranians” taking to streets to protest a regime that “wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate”.

“I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged “all sides (to) refrain from violent actions”.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Robin Pomeroy and David Gregorio)

Iran displays missile, thousands march in marking 1979 U.S. embassy takeover

Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran put a ballistic missile on display as thousands marched on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy, with a senior official accusing President Donald Trump of a “crazy” return to confrontation with Tehran.

Turnout for the annual Iranian street rallies commemorating the embassy takeover, a pivotal event of the Islamic Revolution, appeared higher than in recent years when Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama pursued detente with Tehran.

Last month, Trump broke ranks with European allies, Russia and China by refusing to re-certify Iran’s compliance with its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, reached during Obama’s tenure. Under that deal, most international sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for Tehran curbing nuclear activity seen to pose a risk of being put to developing atomic bombs.

Iran has reaffirmed its commitment to the deal and U.N. inspectors have verified Tehran is complying with its terms, but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has threatened to “shred” the pact if the United States pulls out.

“All the governments confirm that the American president is a crazy individual who is taking others toward the direction of suicide,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, told a rally in Tehran, state media reported.

“Trump’s policies against the people of Iran have brought them out into the streets today,” Shamkhani said.

He did not identify the governments he had in mind. The other parties to the nuclear deal – Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – have voiced disquiet at Trump’s opposition to it, fearing this could stir new Middle East instability.

But the Europeans share U.S. concern over Iran’s ballistic missile program and “destabilizing” regional behavior.

 

NOT NEGOTIABLE

Senior Iranian officials have repeatedly said that the Islamic Republic’s missile program is solely defensive in nature and is not negotiable.

In a sign of defiance, a Ghadr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) was put on display near the ex-U.S. embassy in Tehran, now a cultural center, during Saturday’s street demonstration, Tasnim news agency said.

“That America thinks Iran is going to put aside its military power is a childish dream,” said Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy head of its elite Revolutionary Guards which oversees the missile development, according to Tasnim.

Fars news agency posted pictures of demonstrators nearby burning an effigy of Trump and holding up signs saying “Death to America”.

Iran and the United States severed diplomatic relations soon after the 1979 revolution, during which hardline students seized the embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Shamkhani spoke a few days after Khamenei said the United States was the “number one enemy” of the Islamic Republic.

U.S.-Iranian tensions have risen anew at a time when Tehran has been improving political and military ties with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran on Wednesday. Khamenei told him that Tehran and Moscow must step up cooperation to isolate the United States and help defuse conflict in the Middle East.

Iran and Russia are both fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar al Assad against rebels, some of them U.S.-backed, and Islamist militants trying to overthrow him.

 

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Mark Heinrich)

 

Islamists Hold Nuns Hostage In Syria

A group of Islamists have captured the ancient quarter of the Christian town of Maaloula and are holding nuns hostage inside a monastery.

Reports say terrorists linked to the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nursa Front stormed the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla and are keeping the nuns hostage. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Islamists captured the town after four days of intense fighting.

The capture of the town reportedly was part of a rebel surge to obtain control of a central Syrian Highway between Damascus and Homs.

The government capturing the highway is seen as a key objective for the al-Assad government as it would allow the country’s cache of chemical weapons to be transported for removal and destruction.

“Security remains a key challenge for all. The destruction of a chemical weapons program has never taken place under such challenging and dangerous conditions,” Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the U.N. and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told OPCW delegates.