Christiane Amanpour: Iranian Protesters Defy Police

Hundreds gather despite police warning that protesters would be "corpses."

Feb. 14, 2011 -- As the world watches the demonstrations in various cities around the Middle East, I was interested to read this dispatch from an observer in Tehran:Early in the morning today the mood was set for the expected anti-government demonstrations in Iran as a brave protester climbed atop a crane in the center of Tehran and hoisted a green flag symbolic of the opposition green movement.

Just hours before, throughout the night residents in Tehran stood on their rooftops yelling "Allah-o-akbar," a tactic that anti-regime activists have used to covertly express their opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As the hour for the gathering drew closer, witnesses described security forces lining the streets around Azadi Square in Tehran today and groups of protesters gathering for the opposition march. The heavy presence of riot police wearing black masks and holding batons seemed to deter large crowds from forming according to eyewitness accounts.

Demonstrators describe streets and metros closed, tear gas being fired and sounds of gun shots. As they marched closer to the Azadi square area, with riot police speeding by on motorcycles, they were yelling "Death to the dictator."

Opposition leaders Mir Houssein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were reportedly under house arrest and not allowed to join the protests.

Reporting from the streets was limited because authorities have forbidden journalists from covering the protests. Demonstrators from cities around Iran called into BBC Persia with reports of plainclothes police attacking people and scaring off crowds. One caller described a daughter begging police to leave her elderly mother alone.

Witnesses describe hundreds of people gathering in the towns of Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashad as well. Although the crowds were not as large as what viewers have seen in Egypt or the demonstrations after the 2009 elections, the turn out was significant for Iranians who have been warned by the commander of the police corps that if they showed up they would be "corpses."