AP
Iranian students stage a rare demonstration against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday, lighting a firecracker and burning his photograph in the audience as he delivered a speech at the Amir Kabir Technical University in Tehran on Monday, the state news agency said. The student seen here holds a placard ,reading: "Fascist president, Polytechnich is not your place.”
updated 12/12/2006 6:50:16 AM ET 2006-12-12T11:50:16

Dozens of Iranian students burned pictures of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and threw firecrackers in an effort to disrupt his speech at a university on Monday, a presidential office spokesman said.

It was the first time the president, elected in a landslide in June 2005, had faced such open hostility at a public event. But the spokesman said Ahmadinejad was not deterred and completed his address at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University.

“While he was speaking today they tried to interrupt but they couldn’t and they even burned his pictures while he was speaking and they threw firecrackers but Ahmadinejad continued his speech,” the spokesman said.

He said 50 to 60 students were involved and confirmed local news agency reports they had chanted “Death to the dictator” and that scuffles had broken out between pro- and anti-Ahmadinejad students at the event.

Strong reactions from both sides
The ISNA students’ news agency said Ahmadinejad had responded to the burning of his pictures by saying: “Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice.”

The semi-official Fars news agency said supporters of the president had prevented the protesters from approaching the podium where the president was speaking and chanted: “Ahmadi, Ahmadi, we support you.”

Ahmadinejad told the students: “The minority group which says there is no freedom of speech are not allowing the majority to hear my remarks,” Fars said.

Ahmadinejad’s policies draw strong reactions from his supporters and opponents alike.

The president, who pledged to share out Iran’s oil wealth more fairly when he swept to office, draws enthusiastic crowds particularly in poor provinces where he regular holds rallies.

But a squeeze on press freedoms and clampdown on student activists at universities has drawn strong criticism from those who back reforms in the Islamic Republic. His spending policies have been blamed by critics for inflating prices.

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