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Iranians defiant at U.S. hostage anniversary

/ Source: Reuters

Thousands of Iranians chanted “Death to America” on Saturday outside the former U.S. embassy that students stormed on this day in 1979, reaffirming Iran’s defiance now it faces possible sanctions for its nuclear work.

Iran sees itself as victimized by an aggressive United States bent on controlling the Middle East and exacting revenge against Tehran’s Islamic leaders for overthrowing the U.S.-backed shah 27 years ago.

Washington wants the United Nations Security Council to toughen a draft resolution drawn up by Britain, France and Germany for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. But Russia and China want the draft watered down. Iran says its atomic program is entirely peaceful.

“Unfortunately America has not learned its lesson from the takeover of its embassy, they should know that threats and sanctions do not affect the will of this great nation,” parliamentary speaker Gholamali Haddadadel told protesters.

“Nuclear energy is our certain right,” the crowd responded.

Demonstrators burnt U.S. and Israeli flags as well as effigies of Uncle Sam and President Bush outside the former embassy which state media calls the “nest of spies”. It is now a base for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

“We are here to punch America in the mouth,” said student Mohsen Abdullahi. “We want to tell the Americans and British they are nothing in the face of Iran’s power.”

‘America is the Great Satan’
Many high school students had been let out of class to attend the annual demonstration and while the crowd appeared to number up to 10,000, turnout was not as big as previous years.

Protesters carried banners proclaiming the rallying cries of “death to America” and “death to Israel”, and “America is the Great Satan”.

Student Amir Hossein Ebrahimi, 14, wore camouflage fatigues for the occasion.

“I wore this to tell the Americans that Iranians are always ready to join the army and defend our country,” he said.

Pressing home that message, Iran on Thursday started 10 days of military exercises off its southern coast and said it test fired new and improved missiles. Tehran says all the Gulf’s vital oil shipping lanes are now within range of its weaponry.

“The weapons tests and this demonstration will scare the Americans so they never think of invading our country,” said student Mostafa Bahamin.

Hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has spearheaded Tehran’s defiance of U.S. efforts to impose sanctions against Iran.

Since he came to power a year ago, Ahmadinejad has also reversed the former administration’s drive to reform the Islamic Republic and bring in more open government.

Many of the radical student leaders who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 and held dozens of diplomats hostage for 444 days are now among the most liberal Iranian reformists.

Ahmadinejad, a leader of one student faction 27 years ago, at first opposed the U.S. embassy seizure. He proposed taking over the Soviet embassy instead, leading hostage-takers say.