Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bizarre exile sparks opposition gathering in Iran

IranMania News: "Bizarre exile sparks opposition gathering in Iran

Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com LONDON, Sep 28 (IranMania) - A US-based exile with a bizarre scheme to overthrow Iran's Islamic regime has managed to draw out a few hundred half-hearted protestors onto the streets of the capital, causing a slight but insignificant blip in what remains an apathetic mood, Agence France Press (AFP) reported.

On Sunday, police in the capital broke up a gathering of several hundred protestors outside Tehran university calling for increased freedoms, in what was the first sign of domestic opposition to the regime in months.

According to witnesses, the protest was small and somewhat half-hearted, with people clapping, shouting "congratulations" to each other for actually gathering in the first place and handing out sweets or flowers.

It was eventually broken up by a small number of police.

"A limited number of people gathered illegally and police acted legally in dispersing them," government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh told reporters Monday.

"In any case, the events were of no importance to us," he added, reminding "all people who want to have political activites in Iran to act within the framework of the regulations."

The last pro-freedom rally held in Tehran was in October 2003, marking the return to Iran of Shirin Ebadi after it was announced the human rights activist had won the Nobel Peace Prize -- a gathering of several thousand that Sunday's protest did not come close to matching.

Nor did the demonstration match the anti-regime protests of June and July 2003, which marked the anniversary of a wave of violent student-led rallies in

Sunday's gathering was also different because participants appeared to be answering a call made over the opposition-run Rangharangh satellite television channel by a mysterious US-based Iranian exile, Ahura Pirouz Khaleghi Yazdi.

In recent months, Khaleghi has been declaring he intends to return to Iran on October 1 with some 50 chartered passenger planes packed with his supporters, and his scheme -- while in all appearances totally absurd -- has become a hot topic of conversation here.

Satellite television is banned in the Islamic republic but the restrictions are flouted by millions of home owners.

According to the mystic aviation enthusiast -- who left Iran at the age of seven some 40 years ago -- the regime will collapse on the very same day all by itself.

The personality also operates a bizarre Internet site (www.ahura.info), featuring a "freedom" countdown timer, "Regime Change in Iran", in his events calendar and an invitation to "all Iranians to go with him to remove the Terrorist Regime using Good Words, Good Thoughts and Good Deeds and to launch a Free, Open and Democratic referendum" (sic).

The date of October 1 has not been chosen by accident. It corresponds to the Mehregan festival of Zoroastrianism, Iran's ancient religion. According to mythology, Kaveh the blacksmith defeated the bloodthirsty tyrant Zahak.

The mystic's real name is the more Muslim-sounding Fatollah, but his chosen name of Ahura Pirouz means victory of the Zoroastrian God.

And mixing Islam and Zoroastrianism -- as Iranians often do -- the date of his scheduled return also coincides with the birthday of the 12th Shiite imam, Mehdi, who, the faithful believe, will one day return to earth.

It may all sound hairbrained, but clearly a number of people have been caught up in the excitement.

"He gives us back some hope," said one Iranian in his mid-50s.

But the more general reaction is one of laughter.

"It's pathetic," said another resident of the capital who works as a hospital doctor. "Everyone talks about him and his ridiculous scheme."

Khaleghi also has his critics in the Iranian opposition -- mostly pro-monarchist -- that is exiled in the United States. Some view him as having been sent by the regime itself to discredit its critics."

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