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Iranian Protesters Shout 'Death to America' During Anti-US Rally - 2002-07-19


Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in Tehran Friday in demonstrations against the United States. The protests come a week after U.S. President George Bush criticized Iran's religious leaders and said they should heed the call for reforms.

Demonstrators shouted "Death to America" and burned U.S. flags and effigies of President Bush during the rally in front of Tehran University. Many carried banners with anti-American slogans, like "The Great Satan cannot Harm Iranians".

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi and the head of the judiciary joined the protest.

Mr. Rafsanjani is now a close adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. He told the crowds that Americans should put aside what he called their arrogant behavior so Iran could open a dialogue.

Washington cut off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Reformers have been campaigning in recent years to repair relations and pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami has endorsed unofficial contacts between the two countries.

But many reformers have complained their efforts were hurt last January when President Bush described Iran as part of an axis of evil, along with Iraq and North Korea. Reports from Tehran say a number of pro-reform activists joined the Friday protest.

A statement handed out during the rally accused the Bush administration of interventionist policies and said Iran is ready to resist any aggression.

Islamic groups called for the anti-American protests after President Bush a week ago criticized what he called Iran's uncompromising and destructive policies. At the same time, President Bush expressed his support for Iranians trying to reform the system.

Soon after, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei warned Iranians of the consequences of challenging the system.

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