(Update: Security forces and militiamen clashed with thousands of protesters shouting "death to the dictator" outside Tehran University on Monday, beating them with batons and firing tear gas on a day of nationwide student demonstrations, the Associated Press quoted witnesses as saying.)
(CNSNews.com) – Fearful that a traditional students’ solidarity day on Monday would turn into an anti-regime event, Iranian authorities took steps to clamp down on potential trouble while reminding young Iranians of the anti-U.S. origins of the state-sponsored commemoration.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Israel, the U.S. and other enemies are trying to sow dissent and division, having failed to weaken Iran in other ways.
“The Zionists, the Americans, and other arrogant powers are afraid that the Iranian nation will become an example [to other Islamic nations] … and that is why they have been using every trick and plot in order to isolate Iran,” he said in a speech Sunday.
“Having failed to confront a nation with threats, military incursions and sanctions, enemies resort to ample pretexts to divide and antagonize the nation,” he said.
Khamenei said Iran’s foreign foes had failed to achieve their ends over the 30 years since the Islamic revolution, and would continue to do so. “By Allah’s favor, these enemies have not managed to achieve their goals so far, and they will not do so in the future either.”
The speech was covered widely on Iranian media, and also carried on the supreme leader’s Web site.
Marked on December 7, Students’ Day has its origins in the deaths of three Tehran University students killed by security forces during the U.S.-backed Shah’s regime in 1953.
Tehran is worried that this year, opposition supporters will hijack the day to protest against the government and June’s disputed election. That’s what happened when Iran marked other events in recent months, including the annual commemoration of the siege of the U.S. Embassy in 1979.
In recent days it took pre-emptive steps to prevent this, including curbing Internet access, prohibiting foreign media organizations from covering “news in Tehran” between Monday and Wednesday, and warning that any illegal gatherings outside university campuses would not be tolerated.
Human rights groups report that a number of students have also been arrested in Tehran and other cities in recent days.
Along with the clampdown, Iranian officials are appealing to young Iranians to direct their hostility towards the traditional enemies.
Anti-imperialism and anti-American sentiment has been the basis of every student movement in Iran’s history, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of the powerful Council of Guardians, said in a sermon in the capital on Friday.
It should continue to be so, the IRIB national broadcaster quoted him as saying. Students should regard this as a national and religious duty, he added.
“Smiling at America is against the path of Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini and the Leader of the Islamic Revolution,” Jannati said. “No-one in this country should ever think of removing the widespread hostility towards America from the heart of the public.”
The Council of Guardians is a 12-member body appointed by the supreme leader whose functions include overseeing elections. In late June it declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to have been elected despite evidence of massive vote rigging.
The candidate defeated by Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Mousavi, said on his Website Sunday that the reform movement “has not ended” despite the pressures brought to bear by the authorities.
There was no word on whether he or another top opposition figure and defeated presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi,, planned to take part in protests Monday.
Words of cautious encouragement also came from another influential figure, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who said Sunday political groups in Iran should work to “create a climate of freedom which will convince the majority of people and erase ambiguities.”
Addressing students in the north of the country, Rafsanjani that those who demonstrate should use legal means, but added that “leaders must also respect the law.”
Rafsanjani is chairman of the Expediency Council, a consultative body also appointed by Khamenei. His speech was reported by the Iranian Labor News Agency, an outlet usually described as semiofficial.
Sanctions move could put U.S. oil imports in the crosshairs
Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers are preparing to vote next week on legislation imposing tougher sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program, including curbs on gasoline shipments.
The Iranian Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, H.R. 2194, introduced last March by Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), has strong bipartisan support, with 339 cosponsors.
Last Friday the Ways and Means Committee was given an extension to consider the bill further, but with a Dec. 11 deadline. Berman has said he wants the bill passed by year’s end.
Iran is the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, but due to poor infrastructure and investment it relies on imports for some 40 percent of its gasoline requirements.
When Berman introduced the bill in the House on April 30, he explained that “any foreign entity that sells refined petroleum to Iran – or otherwise enhances Iran's ability to import refined petroleum … – will be effectively barred from doing business in the United States.”
Last September, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said during an official visit to Tehran that his country would provide Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day if sanctions are imposed.
Should he make good on his pledge, Chavez’ stance could turn the spotlight onto U.S. imports of oil from Venezuela.
Although U.S. imports of crude oil and petroleum products from Venezuela have dropped over the past five years – from 569 million barrels in 2004 to 435 million in 2008 – the Latin American country remained the fourth biggest supplier to the U.S. during 2008, after Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, according to statistics kept by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency.
The Obama administration’s policy of offering to engage Iran has borne little fruit, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said late last week that the end of 2009 was the deadline for Iran to respond to international demands regarding the nuclear activity if it wished to avoid sanctions.
The National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based non-profit group supportive of Obama’s diplomatic approach towards Tehran, said in a statement Friday that the pending legislation would punish the Iranian people rather than the government.
“Considering unilateral sanctions at this time threatens to preempt and undermine the President’s multilateral engagement] efforts,” it said.