TEHRAN, Iran — Hundreds of Iranian school students bused in for the occasion crowded outside the former U.S. Embassy on Monday, burning American flags and chanting slogans to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the building's seizure by militant Iranian students.
Equal parts day off from school and angry demonstration, the commemoration came on the eve of the U.S. presidential election and was marked by anti-U.S. and anti-Israel chants and the burning of American, Israeli flags and an effigy of Uncle Sam.
Some students carried banners reading: "Islamic republic will never compromise with U.S." and "Takeover of U.S. embassy was turning point in confronting American evil."
In 1979, militant Iranian students who believed the embassy was a center of plots against the Persian country held 52 Americans hostage 444 days. The U.S. severed diplomatic ties in response, and the two countries have not had formal relations since.
CIA blamed for overthrow
Iranians blame the CIA for helping topple the elected government of Mohammad Mosaddeq in the 1950s and blames the United States for openly supporting the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi against the 1979 Islamic revolution that led to the collapse of the dynasty.
Iranians also condemn Washington for arming and supporting Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which left more than one million casualties on both sides.
Today, some of Iran's leaders see Barack Obama as a harbinger of much-wanted change in U.S. policy toward their government. Iranian state radio broadcast a commentary Monday in a positive spin toward the Democrat.
"Obama entered the race under the slogan of change," it said. "The American people expect their government to put aside neo-conservative policy of unilateralism and return to dialogue in their dealings with the international community."
But although Iranian conservatives may prefer Obama to Republican John McCain, reformers say a McCain victory will bolster Iranian hardliners, who may claim continued U.S. hostilities justify their suppression of freedoms at home and their tough foreign policy.
Hatred runs deep
Last week, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, said his country's hatred for the United States runs deep and differences between the two nations go beyond a "few political issues."
The comments by Khamenei were seen as a signal that a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations was not expected no matter who wins Tuesday.
During Monday's demonstration, the Iranian parliament deputy speaker, Mohammad Hasan Abutorabifard, told the crowd that the severance of ties with the U.S. has helped Iran to be "less damaged" in the global financial crisis.
Reza Pourtaghi, an 18-year-old high school senior at the rally, said anti-U.S. sentiments are strong among his generation. Iranian youth "must not forget that the U.S. is enemy of all Muslims, especially Iranians," he said.
State television broadcast file footage of the takeover and the 1980 release of hostages when they boarded single-file a plane destined for home.
Meanwhile, Iran's joint armed forces called the takeover a "Collapse of U.S. hegemony" in a statement made available to The Associated Press.
Current U.S.-Iranian relations remain very tense, with Washington accusing Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and of supporting Shiite militias in Iraq — charges which Tehran denies.
The U.S. has backed three sets of U.N. sanctions on Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran asserts the activity is only meant to produce electricity.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.