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Iran Marks Anniversary of Islamic Revolution

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Iran is starting 11 days of celebrations to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.   Around the country, Iranians paused at 9:33 in the morning to remember the day that the revolution's leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, returned from a long exile in France. 

Iranian TV showed images of men ringing bells, trains blowing their whistles, ships sounding their horns, and soldiers firing cannons to mark the symbolic return of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on February 1, 1979.

The stern-faced leader of the Islamic Revolution which swept away Iran's monarchy arrived that day at 9:33 by plane from France after 15 years in exile. Large, exuberant crowds met him at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport.

Former Iranian President Abolhasan Bani Sadr, who now lives in exile, traveled with Ayatollah Khomeini, that day.   He recalls the emotional rush that overcame him as he walked down the stairs behind the Ayatollah.

He says many memories come back to him of that day, as he walked down the stairs: returning to his homeland after years of exile and finding people warm, confident, happy and full of hope. And then, he recalls, there was a sea of people in the streets of Tehran, and they all seemed eager and confident.  He also remembers the enthusiasm of the first election, when he became Iran's first democratically elected leader. Later memories, he recalls, are sad ones, when Iraq invaded Iran and the regime began a wave of repression, followed by a coup that swept him from power.

As part of the anniversary celebrations children dressed in the colors of the Iranian flag paid homage to Ayatollah Khomeini by singing and chanting. Iran's revolutionary guards and basij militiamen also raced through the streets of Tehran on motorcycles, waving flags, to celebrate.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accompanied by his top ministers, visited the Ayatollah's mausoleum in Tehran, to honor his memory. Mr. Ahmadinejad, accompanied by the Ayatollah's grandson, stooped down to kiss his tomb, before remembering the revolution.

Mr. Ahmadinejad says that the return of Imam Khomeini to his native land on this day was the beginning of a new period in the life of all humanity. He argues that the Revolution was an uprising, which marks human history as a movement that opened the window of salvation and redemption, freeing people from the physical constraints of life.

The opposition Kalameh Web site reported that the Ayatollah's grandson, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini snubbed Mr. Ahmadinejad during the president's speech. Later, the younger Khomeini visited the home of a jailed advisor to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

There were no reported opposition demonstrations Monday and opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have urged their supporters to turn out on February 11, when Iranians normally take to the streets to celebrate the revolution.

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