Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran fury

Iran fury as YouTube screens last moments of woman shot dead at democracy rally

By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 5:56 PM on 22nd June 2009

An Iranian woman looks up at the camera as she lies dying on the streets of Tehran after Saturday's democracy protests.

Blood starts to pour from her mouth and her nose. Her eyes roll back as men scramble vainly to keep her alive.

The woman, named today as 27-year-old Neda Agha Soltani, had been shot through the heart. She died within minutes.

Foreign media are banned from reporting on 'non-official' events in Iran and dozens of journalists have been arrested or deported in the latest crisis.

But the video of Neda bleeding to death has been broadcast across the globe via the internet and has become a rallying point for protesters.

Neda slumps to the ground after being shot during Saturday's demonstrations

Iranian men trying to help a wounded woman named 'Neda' after getting shot in the chest during a protest in Tehran at the weekend

This afternoon demonstrators returned to the streets of Tehran where they were confronted by hundreds of riot police. It was also revealed that the families of British Embassy staff were being evacuated from the country.

The Neda film has been posted on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and has become a rallying point for anti-government protesters inside Iran and around the world.

Her name even became a 'trending topic' on Twitter, showing that had become one of the most-repeated words on the microblogging site. Tribute websites have also begun to spring up.

A Facebook group created to mourn her calls her 'The Angel of Iran.'

Gunned down: This picture of 'Neda' was posted after the video emerged

'RIP Neda, the world cries seeing your last breath,' was one of a flood of trbute messages on Twitter.

'Neda is everyone's sister, everyone's daughter, everyone's voice for freedom,' said another.

Reports say Neda was watching Saturday’s protests with her father when she was shot by Iran’s militia.

A message posted with the original YouTube video alleges she was intentionally shot through the chest by a Basij member hiding on a rooftop.

'He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart.'

'I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim's chest, and she died in less than two minutes.

'The protests were going on about one kilometre away in the main street and some of the protesting crowd were running from tear gas used among them, towards Salehi Street.'

'Neda' in Farsi means 'the call' or 'the voice'. A website linked to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi named the woman as 27-year-old Neda Agha Soltan.

In other developments, the Foreign Office this afternoon announced it was evacuating the families of staff based in Iran amid continued violence in the wake of the country's disputed election.

The decision came after repeated criticism of Britain by Iranian leaders, and an increasingly tense atmosphere following angry clashes between demonstrators and security officials.

Staff will remain in Iran for now, and the Foreign Office confirmed that it was not advising other British nationals to leave. However, it said officials are monitoring the situation with the utmost vigilance.

The bleeding teenager is helped by the two demonstrators

'The families of our staff have been unable to carry out their lives as usual. As a result, we are withdrawing the dependents of embassy staff,' a Foreign Office spokesman said.

IT giant Siemens and mobile phone firm Nokia supplied Iran with the technology it is using to block phone and internet access.

The companies helped the hardline Iranian regime develop one of the world's most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the internet.

In recent weeks, the country's interior ministry have been battling to stop protesters from posting messages, pictures and video on websites like YouTube and Twitter.

Iran's monitoring system works using equipment installed into the telecoms network. It analyses the flow of online data, from emails and internet phone calls to images and messages on social-networking sites.

The country's highest electoral authority, the Guardian Council, today acknowledged that there were voting irregularities in 50 electoral districts, the most serious official admission so far of problems in the election. But the council insisted the problems do not affect the outcome of the vote.

Bloody: Her fellow protesters battle to save Neda's life

Blood pours from a head wound. It is clear Neda has lost her brief fight for life

Earlier, the elite Revolutionary Guard issued its sternest warning so far in the post-election crisis.

It warned protesters to 'be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the Guards, Basij and other security forces and disciplinary forces' if they continue their near-daily rallies.

The Basij, a plainclothes militia under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, have been used to quell street protests that erupted after the election result was announced.

The Guard statement ordered demonstrators to 'end the sabotage and rioting activities' and said their resistance is a 'conspiracy' against Iran.

On Sunday, acting joint chief of the armed forces Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid issued a thinly veiled warning to Mousavi, saying 'we are determined to confront plots by enemies aimed at creating a rift in the nation'.

And opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has warned supporters of danger ahead, and said he would stand by the protesters 'at all times.'

But in the website letters, he said he would 'never allow anybody's life to be endangered because of my actions' and called for pursuing fraud claims through an independent board.

A photograph of the woman's grave was posted on the internet this evening

The former prime minister, a longtime loyalist of the Islamic government, also called the Basij and military 'our brothers' and 'protectors of our revolution and regime.

He may be trying to constrain his followers' demands before they pose a mortal threat to Iran's system of limited democracy constrained by Shia clerics, who have ultimate authority.

His chances of success within the system would be far higher if he had backers among those clerics.

In the clearest sign yet of a splintering among the ayatollahs, state media announced the arrests on Sunday of relatives of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani including his daughter Faezeh, a 46-year-old reformist politician vilified by hardliners for her open support of Mousavi.

Rafsanjani's relatives, who state media said were held for their own protection, were released after a few hours.

Rafsanjani heads the cleric-run Assembly of Experts, which can remove the supreme leader, the country's most powerful figure. He also chairs the Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates disputes between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council.

Rafsanjani and his family have been accused of corruption by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the 75-year-old ayatollah was conspicuously absent Friday from an address by the country's supreme leader calling for national unity and siding with the president.

That fuelled speculation that Rafsanjani, who has made no public comment since the election, may be working behind the scenes and favoring Mousavi.

A demonstrator in LA holds a picture of Neda as Iranian-Americans and supporters protest what they say are crimes against humanity

Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles hold signs to identify with a girl known as Neda, believed to be a teenager, who was shot dead in Tehran

The protest in Los Angeles was one of hundreds around the world

Ahmadinejad appeared to be courting his own clerical support. State television showed him meeting with mullahs at the presidential palace and telling them the election had demonstrated popular love for the regime.

He criticised Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama, who on Saturday urged Iranian authorities to halt 'all violent and unjust actions against its own people.'

'With that behaviour you will not be among Iran's friends,' Ahmadinejad said, in a potentially ominous sign for Obama's recent efforts to warm relations with Iran.

U.S.-allied Arab states who fear Iranian expansionism may be enjoying the spectacle of violent protest over President Ahmadinejad's re-election, but fear over the fallout is beginning to filter through.

Thousands of Iranians have clashed with police in recent days claiming elections that gave populist anti-Western leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term were rigged.

Arab officials broke their silence today when the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister appeared to back Tehran's claims of Western meddling, saying interference was 'unacceptable'.

Iranian security personnel stand guard outside a government building in Fatemi Square in Tehran this afternoon

'All countries in the region are in the same boat in believing that there is no interest for any country to be exposed to instability,' Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan said in comments carried by Al Jazeera television.

Many of the smaller Gulf Arab states lying across the Gulf waterway have maintained close ties with the Shi'ite power, veering from Saudi and Egyptian-led attempts to ostracise Iran over backing for Arab opposition groups and Shi'ites.

Saudi media has given maximum play to Tehran's troubles, with newspapers splashing images of bloodied protesters on front pages and pan-Arab channel Al Arabiya running endless footage.

'The regime feels for the first time that there is a clear domestic threat,' wrote Abdel-Rahman al-Rashed, manager of Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, in pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

'The worst is if it digs its heels in at home and abroad. The best is if it realises the huge difference between its slogans and people's demands and chooses reconciliation through retreating from its projects and adventures.'

In this photograph posted on the internet, an Iranian protestor flashes the victory sign from behind a public trash bin set on fire at an anti-government protest in Tehran

Iranian riot police clash with stone-throwing demonstrators

Saudi rulers got their first foreign policy break earlier this month after several years of setbacks against Iran when their pro-U.S. allies in Lebanese elections won a surprise victory against Hezbollah-led opposition group backed by Iran.

Some gloating also crept into Egypt's state media coverage. But analysts say the unfolding events could have unpredictable outcomes for these Sunni Muslim governments, who are pillars of U.S. political, economic and military policy in the region.

A government spokesman said Iraq would respect the result of whoever Iran wants as leader but avoided mentioning Ahmadinejad by name. This may reflect uncertainty over where events are leading.

As'ad AbuKhalil, Lebanese politics professor at California State University, said Iranian opponents of Ahmadinejad - if they come out on top - would still likely promote a nationalist agenda that Riyadh sees as a threat to its interests.

Determined: Mir Hossein Mousavi

Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi was prime minister under the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

'The site of public demonstrations by the thousands against their leaders ...troubles all Arab leaders,' AbuKhalil said, pointing to the lack of popular democracy on a par with that of Iran in most of the Arab countries.

'Arab regimes may also fear that if the Iranian regime feels cornered and pressured, it may lash out, and Saudi Arabia may be the first to feel the wrath of the regime,' he said.

There are already hints of what that could mean.

Iran's airforce began exercises on Monday in the Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Iran has strongest navy in Gulf, deploying ships to international waters such as the Gulf of Aden near Yemen and has carried out numerous long-range missile tests.

Last week Iran's 'Supreme Leader' Ali Khamenei came out openly in favour of Ahmadinejad and his nuclear energy policy, which the West and Gulf Arab countries fear will allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons power. Tehran denies this intention.

A Western diplomat in the Gulf said this would reduce the chances of Iran achieving the rapprochement with Washington so feared by Riyadh.'The status quo suits everyone to a degree,' he said.

Ahmadinejad's re-election, analysts said, would comfort many Israelis and some Arabs who have long sought international action against Iran and had been concerned by U.S. President Barack Obama's offer of direct talks.

Saudi Arabia, whose absolute monarchy relies on U.S. military support and the backing of hardline Sunni clerics, fears Iran could win recognition from Washington as a regional power in return for checks on its nuclear programme.

Faezeh Rafsanjani (C), daughter of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, attends an opposition rally in Tehran

But there are also signs that Arabs who benefit from Ahmadinejad's strident backing for groups fighting what he depicts as neo-colonialist forces - Washington and Israel - are getting nervous over what happens if he is forced out.

'(Hezbollah) genuinely are concerned. Ahmadinejad has clearly been a source of inspiration and support for Hezbollah over the last four years,' said Lebanese analyst Oussama Safa.

The group's deputy leader Naim Kassem has backed Iran's charge of foreign interference and its system of clerical rule.

'We see America and Britain and some of the European states getting involved in the events in Iran. There is an attempt to provoke turmoil, to inflate the problem, for foreign interests,' he told Lebanon's New TV this week.

Videos: Iranian riot police arrest two protesters and Basij militia shoots at teenagers

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