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Iran Celebrates Islamic Revolution - 2002-02-11

Twenty-three years ago, Muslim fundamentalists overthrew the government of the Shah of Iran. Monday, the country is celebrating the anniversary of the Islamic revolution. This year's demonstration has taken on added meaning because of President Bush's recent comments regarding Iran.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children marched through the streets of Tehran Monday shouting slogans against President Bush. Some demonstrators chanted, "our people are awake and hate America."

From seven different points in the capital, the marchers converged on Azadi Square to hear the traditional speech by President Mohammad Khatami who, on Saturday, urged all Iranians to demonstrate in a show of unity against comments made by President Bush.

Mr. Bush said in his State of the Union address last month that Iran was part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea, in developing weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terrorism.

The anniversary of the Islamic Revolution always draws huge crowds, but President Khatami on Saturday said participation in the anniversary celebration "is more important than before because of the baseless, erroneous and insulting comments against Iran."

Both conservative and reformist political and religious leaders in Iran called for a large turnout. Thousands were brought to the capital in fleets of buses from outlying areas. Prizes of gold coins were being offered for the best effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Hala Mustafa is an expert on Muslim fundamentalism at the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. She says Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, had already begun to side with political conservatives in Iran. And she believes Mr. Bush's comments may only speed that process. "It could enhance the hardliners in Iran, and it could push President Khatami to be closer to conservative and hardliner figures, like it did in Iraq," she said. Attacking [Iraqi] President Saddam [Hussein] enhanced already, or gave him more popularity with his people and society. But I would like to add something, because we don't want to exaggerate about the American factor here. Khatami didn't already go further in his reform before the declaration of President Bush. He was already a little bit closer to the conservative or hardliners. So maybe the declaration of President Bush just pushed it faster."

President Bush accuses Iran of, among other things, meddling in neighboring Afghanistan in an effort to destabilize the government, allowing members of the former ruling Taleban and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, al-Qaida, to flee into Iran, sponsoring terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction.

Iran denies the charges, and insists it supports the new Afghan government.