NY Times: Amid Large Protests, Iran Leader Calls Holocaust a Lie
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran’s government and its relentlessly defiant critics used an annual day of support for Palestinians on Friday to promote their agendas, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets in their largest rally in two months and the president making some of his harshest comments on the Holocaust, which he called “a lie.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel comments came the day after President Obama, in a major national security reversal, scuttled his predecessor’s missile shield plan to focus instead on protecting Israel and Europe against short- and medium-range Iranian missiles.
Through a tumultuous day of street rallies in Tehran and other cities, police officers were often on the sidelines as protesters faced off against huge crowds of pro-government supporters — many of them bused in from outside the cities — and chain-wielding Basij militia men. There were reports of arrests in Tehran and the southern city of Shiraz, but no shootings or deaths, with the police apparently showing greater restraint than at earlier protests.
Conservatives had warned against using the annual pro-Palestinian march, known as Quds Day, as an excuse for renewed protests against Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose disputed re-election in June plunged Iran into its worst internal crisis in three decades.
But the protesters turned out anyway, wearing green, the color of opposition, and often walking alongside larger groups of state-sanctioned marchers bearing huge banners denouncing Israel. The protesters even flouted Iran’s support for pro-Palestinian militants, chanting “No to Gaza and Lebanon, my life is for Iran.” And when officials shouted “death to Israel” through loudspeakers, protesters derisively chanted “death to Russia” in response.
Many opposition supporters are angry about Russia’s quick acceptance of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election victory.
The opposition leaders Mir Hussein Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami joined the crowds, drawing appreciative cheers and chants of support. Later, Basij militia members tried to attack Mr. Khatami and Mr. Karroubi, but defenders fought them back, opposition Web sites reported. Mr. Ahmadinejad — who has been trying to silence critics for months — has called the Holocaust a myth before, a charge that he repeated Friday and that generally plays well domestically.
Several reports quoted him as saying Friday that the Holocaust was a false pretext for the establishment of Israel in 1948. “It is a lie” based on an unprovable and “mythical claim,” he was quoted as saying in the speech. Mr. Ahmadinejad said the Israeli “regime has no future. Its life has come to an end,” Reuters reported.
The government had halted street protests just weeks after the election by harshly cracking down on marchers and arresting hundreds of them. But it has been unable to quiet the opposition leaders, who have kept up their criticisms of the election and the government’s violent response. They further and ratcheted up tensions when they leveled accusations that some protesters had been raped and tortured in prison.
The rape accusations have been especially embarrassing for the religious leadership, and the government has denied the claims, although it has acknowledged that at least some people were tortured.
Pro-Palestinian marches are traditionally held on the last Friday before the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. But this year, coincidentally, they also fell on the eve of the Jewish New Year.