Los Angeles Times: More than 2,000 Iranian exiles from across Europe rallied in Berlin today to protest against Tehran’s conservative Islamic government and criticize its nuclear ambitions as a dangerous ploy that could lead to U.S. military intervention. The demonstration quickly spun into a tale of legal maneuverings and conspiracy theories. Before it was to begin at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin authorities canceled the rally, claiming it was partly organized by an Iranian opposition group linked to terrorism. A German court overturned the ban, and protesters, detained for hours at airports and train stations, streamed through rainy streets. Los Angeles Times
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Times Staff Writer
BERLIN More than 2,000 Iranian exiles from across Europe rallied in Berlin today to protest against Tehran’s conservative Islamic government and criticize its nuclear ambitions as a dangerous ploy that could lead to U.S. military intervention.
The demonstration quickly spun into a tale of legal maneuverings and conspiracy theories. Before it was to begin at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin authorities canceled the rally, claiming it was partly organized by an Iranian opposition group linked to terrorism. A German court overturned the ban, and protesters, detained for hours at airports and train stations, streamed through rainy streets.
“The regime in Iran is terrified. The ruling clerics know these are their last days and they tried to stop this democratic demonstration,” said Shokrani Taheri, handing out fliers amid police officers at the Brandenburg Gate. “Tehran has made deals with the governments of Europe. There’s business and oil and the Europeans don’t want to lose them.”
The protest marked the 26th anniversary of the Iranian revolution that swept the Islamic government into power. It came as the Bush administration and Europe remain divided over how to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons.
Sensing their voices may be eclipsed by international developments, Iranians in the diaspora are lobbying to overthrow the Tehran regime through economic sanctions and support of internal opposition groups.
Many marching in the demonstration complained that European negotiations with Iran have done little to improve Tehran’s human rights record or derail its nuclear program. Protesters said that while they opposed a U.S. military strike on Iran, they were encouraged by tough language directed at the regime by President Bush during his State of the Union address and by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week. Rice has said an attack on Iran is “simply not on the agenda” at this time.
“The European appeasement approach has been futile and counterproductive. It gives Iran only carrots,” said Mitra Ghafranifar, adding that she left Iran and settled in Germany 18 years ago after her brothers were executed for sympathizing with groups seeking to topple the regime. “But at this time, the last thing Iranians need is an invasion by a foreign power. We don’t want the mullahs to have justifications for cracking down on the people.”
Kheiratie Ahad stood amid the crackle of loudspeakers as the paint on placards ran in the drizzle. Like thousands of Iranians from across the continent, he spent his morning in confusion, being told the rally was on, then off, then on again. Organizers had predicted 40,000 people would march. German authorities said more than 2,000 attended.
A broad man with a thick mustache, Ahad said the Iranian regime was skilled at manipulating events from afar.
“We are against Iran’s nuclear bomb project,” said Ahad, who moved from Iran to Germany in 1991. “We are against European appeasement. We are against U.S. military intervention. The change must come from within Iran itself. This is what we are here to support.”
Berlin’s interior ministry said the rally, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, would have helped support another organization, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran. The U.S. State Department and the European Union consider the People’s Mujahedin a terrorist organization. The group was involved in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, and some former members have accused the People’s Mujahedin of seizing followers’ wealth and intimidating through torture.
The People’s Mujahedin is the largest opposition group and is despised by Tehran. European governments, led by Germany, France and Britain, are attempting to persuade Iran to stop attempts at enriching uranium, and don’t want a perceived endorsement of an Iranian exile rally to undermine negotiations. Enriched uranium could be used to develop nuclear weapons, though Iran has stated that the program is only for civilian purposes.
The French government last week banned an Iranian rally in Paris. The exiles then moved it to Berlin.
“It’s shameful how the European governments bow to the Iranians,” said Ali Safavi, president of a Middle East policy research group in United States who is closely associated with the People’s Mujahedin. “This is why appeasement doesn’t work. It’s because of Europe’s business and economic interests with Iran But at the end of the day in Berlin, freedom of speech was upheld.”
Safavi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said the turnout in Berlin was limited by restrictions imposed before the ban against the rally was lifted. He said police blocked buses from unloading thousands of protesters and authorities kept “dozens of chartered planes filled with Iranian exiles” grounded in Oslo, Paris, Copenhagen and other cities.