Iranians living overseas have joined the hundreds of thousands in Iran in protesting the outcome of the June 12 presidential elections that "officially" showed a landslide 63 percent vote for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the main challenger, Mir Hussein Mousavi, coming in a distant second. The Iranian diaspora has staged rallies in recent days in London, Stockholm and The Hague - and in France.
The rally was organized by the French based National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, which has a controversial reputation but is nonetheless considered one of the largest opposition groups outside Iran.
At a cavernous stadium near the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi called for the end of dictatorship in Iran and for a new regime that respects democracy and human rights.
Those sentiments were echoed by Manouchehr Marashi, an Iranian poet who travelled by bus from his home in the Netherlands to attend the Paris rally. "The Iranian people want change for more than three decades. They want democracy, they want freedom. But with this reactionary regime, they don't get it. With the young people it's the same thing: They just want a better life," he said.
Another protester, Behrouz Tavakoli, said he was optimistic that the protests that have swelled in Iran since the disputed presidential elections will fundamentally change the political landscape there. "I'm not sure how long it will take - whether two weeks, one year, more or less. But I can say this is a big step forward to serious change in Iran -- (whether or not) it can be called a revolution or not," he said.
The Paris rally is the latest of several staged in European capitals this week. Paris-based Iranian analyst Ardavan Amir-Aslani, who recently published a book on Iran, says while the diaspora is politically splintered, the protests are one thing uniting them. "Basically speaking, the diaspora today is convinced the elections in Iran were rigged. You have millions of Iranians living abroad. The vast majority of them have sided with Mousavi. The truth is that both Moussavi and Ahmedinejad are members of the high-ranking elite," he said.
While the massive protests in Iran may not affect the election results, Amir-Aslani for one is hopeful they may mark the beginning of real change in Iran.
On Friday, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there was a "definitive victory" for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 election. And he said the officials results were a landslide "beyond question."