Iranians Rally to Protest Khomeini Photo Burning

Opposition members say the defacement was staged by the government as an excuse to further its crackdown against them.

Elizabeth Arrott

Thousands of Iranians turned out for a state-organized rally in Tehran Friday to protest the burning of an image of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Opposition members say the defacement was staged by the government as an excuse to further its crackdown against them.

Demonstrators held aloft portraits of the late Ayatollah, a figure greatly respected by many across Iran's political spectrum.

The crowd cried out Khomeini's name, and as various speakers took to the podium, engaged in lively call and response chants.

The rally is the latest episode since the the disputed re-election IN JUNE of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

State television has repeatedly shown video of the defacement, said to have occurred during a student-led opposition rally last week. 

Opposition leader and former presidential contender Mir Hossein Mousavi has argued his supporters revere Khomeini and would never burn his image.

Student protesters Sunday accused the government of being behind the burning, which they characterized as a bid to discredit the opposition movement.

The symbolism of Ayatollah Khomeini remains potent.  The tactics of his supporters in ousting the former Shah have been repeated by those protesting this year's election results.

And the Ayatollah's strong backing of Mr. Mousavi, who served as prime minister during the 1980s, grants him a certain moral authority.

At Friday's rally, impassioned speakers implored the crowds into condemning the defacement.   And as usual at such government events, speakers also called for "Death to America."

Iranian state television carried the event live - a contrast to coverage of opposition rallies, news of which is spread mainly by protesters via social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

In a somewhat mysterious development Friday, Twitter was disrupted briefly by a group calling itself the Iranian Cyber Army.  There was no immediate word on the make-up of group or if the hackers have any connection to Iran.


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