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Nightly News   |  February 11, 2010

Iran protests quelled by security crackdown

Government spokesmen say millions turned out at pro-government rallies to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. Anti-government protesters were reportedly few and far between, as Iran's President once again declared his country a nuclear state. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> story live tonight.

>>> now, overseas to iran . on this anniversary of the islamic revolution , many fear, as you may know, this was going to be a day of serious new confrontations in the streets. in fact, the ruling regime there did send forces into the streets and sent a new message to the west, we have been watching this all day long very closely. we are joined tonight by our chief foreign correspondent richard engel in our london newsroom. richard, xwechk.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. while there were some clashes today, iran effectively cracked down and proved it still controls the streets. surrounded by cheering supporters, president mahmoud ahmadinejad today bragged of new advances in iran 's nuclear program. "we have the capacity," he said," to enrich uranium more than 20% or 80%, but we won't because we don't need it." 90% is considered concentrated enough to make a weapon. u.s. officials suspect the claim may be exaggerated for domestic consumption on today's highly-managed show of national pride . big enough to be seen from miles above. and which was at times theatrical, complete with three efagies of the rim reaper, one for the united states , britain and israel. the few fornl journalists in iran , including ali arouzi were restricted.

>> reporter: this year the event has been very carefully staged. we are penned into a certain area and not allow to talk to pro government supporters. buses brought us in and brought us out. this doesn't reflect the bigger picture of what's going on in the city.

>> reporter: that picture was filled in yet again by cell phone videos. there is now an efficient distribution network for the undercover videos. some run from los angeles by the large, mostly anti-government iranian community. today's videos showed protestors cheering opposition leaders. and more controversially, tearing down a poster of iran's supreme leader and trampling it. but the protests were small. just a few hundred turned out. and they were quickly overwhelmed by security forces . thousands of them, with batons, tear gas and colored smoke .

>> i think it's going to be disappointing for some, certainly disappointing for people who are wishing for a revolution to take form today.

>> reporter: u.s. intelligence officials say today's crackdown was a setback for the opposition in iran , and could cause it to lose momentum. brian.

>> richard, thanks for your reporting. richard engel in our london newsroom. thanks.