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Iranian Pro-Democracy Demonstrations Continue - 2003-06-19

Demonstrations in Tehran continued for a ninth consecutive night but fewer people took part than in previous nights. Despite the length and intensity of some of the demonstrations, some experts say they don't believe the protests will bring about any significant political change in Iran.

The heavy presence of police, anti-riot squads and hard-line vigilantes on the streets of Tehran appears to have all but quelled the pro-democracy demonstrations that have gone on nine nights in the Iranian capital.

Thursday night police manned intersections around Tehran University, the epicenter of the protests, looking for would-be demonstrators.

Witnesses said the occasional sounding of car horns was the only sign the protest was continuing.

Earlier in the week hard-liners loyal to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, clashed with police and the protesters resulting in dozens of injuries and arrests.

The demonstrators are opposed to Islamic rule and are demanding greater freedom.

According to Pakinam el-Sharkawy, an expert on Iran who teaches political science at Cairo University, the latest demonstrations might give moderate President Mohammad Khatami greater leverage with his conservative Islamic government. But, she says, with the change of regimes in Iraq and the international attention being paid to Iran's nuclear program, she doesn't believe the latest demonstrations will do much to bring about political change.

"It can really help Khatami with his dialogue with the conservatives but I don't think it will really affect the equation of power between conservatives, liberals or reformists because, regarding all the regional and international circumstances, I think the conservative dialogue now is regaining some of its own power. So, I don't think really these demonstrations can really make a big difference.

In his first public response to the demonstrations, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Wednesday, he was proud that the latest protests drew only a few hundred people. He said it shows the strength and support for the Islamic government.

Washington has applauded the demonstrations, angering the government in Tehran, which described the U.S. support as interference in Iran's internal affairs.

President Bush said Wednesday America stands squarely by the side of the demonstrators, who he said were courageous to speak out for freedom.

But those speaking out overnight were few. And, unlike any other night of the protests, Thursday morning the streets around Tehran University were virtually empty.