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Hundreds of thousands mark Iran's revolution

Hundreds of thousands turned out on Friday to mark the 32nd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution in a rally the clerical establishment billed as a chance to show solidarity with "Islamic" protesters in Egypt.
Image: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets supporters
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) extends his hands to supporters during a rally on Tehran's Azadi Square (Freedom Square) on Friday in which the Islamic republic's President lashed out at the West and Israel in a speech marking the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Atta Kenare / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: news services

Hundreds of thousands turned out on Friday to mark the 32nd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution in a rally the clerical establishment billed as a chance to show solidarity with "Islamic" protesters in Egypt.

"Death to America," and "Death to Israel," shouted demonstrators, repeating the ritual chant of the revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979 and swept the Shiite Muslim clergy to power.

President President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated the authorities' view — challenged by their political opponents — that the uprisings in Tunisia and against Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak are an "Islamic awakening" similar to Iran's revolution.

Most opposition groups in Egypt, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, have stressed the secular nature of their protests.

He said Egypt's popular uprising shows a new Middle East is emerging, one that will have no signs of Israel and U.S. "interference."

His remarks came hours after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refused to step down, angering hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who have been demanding he relinquish his three-decade grip on power.

Ahmadinejad says Egyptians have the right to live in freedom and choose their own government.

Iran crushed opposition protests against Ahmadinejad's disputed 2009 re-election and on Thursday, Iranian opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi was placed under house arrest because of calls for a rally in support of Egyptian protesters.

'Victory is imminent'
"Victory is imminent ... arrogant powers are close to hitting the end ... Our nation supports your choice," he told the crowd in a speech at Tehran's Azadi (Liberty) square, to chants of "Mubarak, congratulations on the Egyptians' uprising."

Ahmadinejad also predicted the fall of the "arrogant powers" and called on them to "dismantle the Zionist regime (Israel) which is the main cause of all crimes." Iran does not recognize Israel.

"Soon a new Middle East will be created ... a Middle East in which there is no place for arrogant powers," Ahmadinejad said, his speech broadcast live on state television.

People in the square waved flags and carried pictures of the late leader of Iran's revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

State television said "tens of millions of people" rallied to support the revolution across the country.

A dispute over the presidential election in 2009 provoked the worst unrest in three decades in Iran itself, and also led to a deepening rift among the ruling elite.

Opposition protests
Mass opposition protests ended in December 2009 but opposition leaders, who said the vote was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad's re-election, say the freedom movement is still alive in Iran.

Mehdi Karroubi and Mirhossein Mousavi, who lost the 2009 vote to Ahmadinejad, have asked permission to hold a rally on Monday to support the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Opposition websites said Karroubi had been under house arrest and at least eight moderate activists and journalists had been detained since Wednesday. Judiciary officials were not available for comment.

Hardline authorities, trying to prevent a revival of anti-government street protests, have warned opponents against holding their rally.

Karroubi, in an interview with the New York Times conducted via internet from his home, said the rally was a test for both the government and its opponents.

Opposition leaders say the pro-democracy uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia mirror the anti-government demonstrations in Iran in 2009, not the 1979 Islamic revolution as claimed by the authorities.