Iranians slam US, Israel on revolution anniversary

AFP, Saturday 11 Feb 2012

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated on Saturday Iran's persistance on its 'rights' to the nuclear activities

A worshipper pastes a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a flag and a Persian script that reads, "Hey Khamenei" on a Revolutionary Guard uniform as he attends Friday prayers in Tehran February 10, 2012. (Photo:Reuters)

Iranians, some holding placards declaring "Death to America" and "Death to Israel", on Saturday marked the anniversary of their country's 1979 Islamic revolution with mass marches and a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators congregated in cities across Iran under winter skies, state television showed.

The main rallying point was in Tehran, where Ahmadinejad was to address a crowd of around 30,000 in Azadi (Freedom) Square from a stage in front of which a full-scale model of a captured US spy drone was erected.

In an unusual break with tradition -- and a pointed swipe at Israel -- the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, was give a speech from the podium at Ahmadinejad's side, in which he vowed that the Islamist movement would never recognise the Jewish state.

"They want us to recognise the Israeli occupation and cease resistance but, as the representative of the Palestinan people and in the name of all the world's freedom seekers, I am announcing from Azadi Square in Tehran that we will never recognise Israel," Haniya told the crowd.

"The resistance will continue until all Palestinian land, including Al-Quds (Jerusalem), has been liberated and all the refugees have returned," he said.

His reassertion of the longstanding Hamas position is likely to complicate Palestinian efforts to form a unity government in the teeth of opposition from the Jewish state, which blacklists the Islamist group as a terrorist organisation.

The model drone and Haniya were clear signs of defiance by Iran's regime as it confronts US-led Western economic sanctions and Israeli threats of military action against its controversial nuclear programme.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have said they would not abandon their "rights" to the nuclear activities, which they maintain are exclusively non-military in nature.

The United States and Israel, however, see the nuclear programme as including research to build an atomic bomb that can fit into Iran's ballistic missiles -- a contention given some backing by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, three months ago.

The United States and the European Union have ratcheted up economic sanctions on Iran to an unprecedented level to try to force it to halt uranium enrichment and re-engage in long-stalled talks.

Iran has instead defiantly stepped up its enrichment activities, notably in a fortified mountain bunker near the Shiite shrine city of Qom designed to be bomb-proof.

Israel's government, voicing concerns that Iran could shield its nuclear programme from attack by the end of this year, has fuelled speculation of imminent air strikes against its long-time foe.

Iran's anniversary commemorations mark the day 33 years ago that a revolution led by clerics, students and dissidents overthrew the US-backed shah and installed an Islamic theocracy.

The United States cut off all diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980, after Islamic students stormed the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took 52 Americans inside hostage in a crisis that lasted 444 days.

Demonstrators on Saturday marched towards rally points, many holding Iranian flags, pictures of Khamenei and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, or the placards saying "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".

The US drone replica on display in Tehran was that of an unmanned stealth aircraft, a bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, which Iranian officials said they brought down by hacking its flight controls as it overflew their territory in December on a surveillance mission.

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