Nov. 4, 2009 -- Iranian protesters took to the streets today as they do every Nov. 4 to mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy takeover.
But this year, opponents of the Iranian regime used the government sanctioned day of street demonstrations to challenge the hard line administration.
While supporters of the regime led chants of "death to America," crowds nearby shouted "death to the dictator," a veiled reference to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his political ally, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
State security forces had issued a warning against opposition protests, and broke up the crowds using batons, tear gas, and gunfire.
The International Campaign for Human Rights cited thousands of protesters collecting in Tehran, Tabriz, Shiraz and other major cities before clashes with security forces. Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi was reportedly injured, struck by a tear gas canister.
"We probably were one tenth of what we were in Qods Day, but they had many time more of their thugs in uniform out there, with lot of preparation," said one protester, referring to riot police and the state-sponsored rally last month that were also used as an opposition stage. "The government was clearly scared."
The opposition had organized and publicized its rallies for weeks using graffiti, digital posters distributed online, and messages written in green on paper money.
The two sides, the regime and the opposition "Green Movement," have reoriented Iran and its politics since this summer's disputed presidential election. It has produced a tangled political scenario.
The regime has focused on enforcing order at home and negotiating with the West over its nuclear program. While the conservative regime engages in talks with the U.S. and its allies, hardliners continue to blame the West for encouraging opposition protests.
Opposition supporters, meanwhile, are trying to discourage Washington from negotiating with Tehran. Some protesters today chanted, "Obama, Obama, you're with them or you're with us," a rhyming verse in Persian expressing frustration at U.S. open engagement with Ahmadinejad's government.
"People are asking him to be clear. They don't want to see him in talks with the regime. They want to make it easier for people to get a visa, do something that could help people have better lives," said one protester.
Iranian Protesters Oppose Obama's Contacts With Regime
"Most people were disappointed...they didn't expect him to do the negotiation with Ahmadinejad. It's up to Obama to decide where to go from here," the protester said.
The White House chided Iran today on its rough treatment of opposition protesters, particularly reports of opponents being clubbed with batons.
"We obviously have seen and are following the reports of this, and hope greatly that violence will not spread," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
President Obama had issued a statement marking the hostage crisis anniversary, saying that after 30 years the United States was "seeking a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect."
Despite the conflicting protests there is little indication that Iran is prepared to significantly alter its view of the United States.
"Iran and the U.S. severed their diplomatic relations 30 years ago….America has burned all its bridges," wrote the conservative Resalat newspaper. "The Iranian elites, and its genuine statesmen, believe that there is no hope of Iran and the U.S. entering talks, let alone reviving their relations."
Bruce Laingen, a former U.S. diplomat who served as chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the takeover, does not see that position softening.
"[They're] not given to much compromise in their relationship with the United States," said Laingen, who was held hostage during the 444-day crisis. Laingen is a proponent of engagement with Iran, and backs President Obama's approach through multilateral talks.
"I also don't see any likely upheaval of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the near term, but I think over time it must change. It's evident in the way in which people in Iran are expressing their views," said Laingen.