Iran's police chief is warning opposition protesters that security forces "will not allow anyone to disrupt" official ceremonies marking Thursday's anniversary of the country's 1979 revolution. Opposition leaders have called on supporters to turn out for a "peaceful demonstration."
Iranian government TV continues to broadcast footage of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the man behind the country's Islamic revolution, in the buildup to Thursday's 31 anniversary celebration of the event. Top Iranian leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were also shown throughout the day speaking effusively about the 1979 revolution:
He says that the [11th of February] is a date that belongs to the great Iranian people because it is a day to renew the covenant and renew the energy and the power [of the revolution]….It is a day that belongs to the entire human race, because it marks a new horizon for mankind.
Top opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are urging their supporters to turn out on the streets Thursday, alongside official government celebrations for a "peaceful demonstration."
The official Fars News Agency reports that Iranian police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam warned that security forces were "closely monitoring activities" of what he called "the sedition movement," adding that several people who were allegedly preparing to disrupt pro-government rallies were arrested.
The government has meticulously prepared routes to Iran's "freedom" or Azadi Square, where the main government rally is to be held.
Scott Lucas of the University of Birmingham in Britain who is behind the popular Iran blog "Enduring America" says that opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi has also told his supporters to march to Azadi Square, where the two groups may confront each other.
"Karroubi is saying [on his website] that he's walking to Azadi Square, so that means a head on confrontation with the pro-government people who [will be] there," said Scott Lucas. "I know it's a big square, but still, that means you've got both camps in Azadi at the same time. The government can't keep everyone off the streets [Thursday] because they have a pro-government rally going down. They are celebrating the revolution. So, unless they are going to try and keep the two groups separated it's going to be really difficult to police this one."
Lucas thinks that Karroubi has thrown down the gauntlet to the government, by indicating exactly where he wants his supporters to turn out:
"Now, what Karroubi did today was significant, because he basically told the government where he's going to be tomorrow," he said. "Because it basically says 'look, I'm going to this square," because Karroubi knows he'll get people who will rally there. Because that's been the government strategy at every gathering since July: to make sure they don't get into the main square, because then you can break it up and it becomes hit and run protests."
The last major anti-government protests took place on the anniversary of the Shi'ite holy day of Ashoura, on Dec. 27. At least 8 people were killed and dozens of protesters were arrested. Iran's opposition Green Movement has been protesting what it calls the fraudulent re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last June.