AFP: Iran deployed hundreds of policemen across Tehran on Tuesday to quell any possible opposition protests as the nation began celebrating the annual Persian fire festival, witnesses told AFP. TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran deployed hundreds of policemen across Tehran on Tuesday to quell any possible opposition protests as the nation began celebrating the annual Persian fire festival, witnesses told AFP.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had on Sunday urged Iranians to shun the festival after branding it un-Islamic and an event which causes "a lot of harm."
But witnesses said people had already begun celebrating the ritual, setting off firecrackers to mark the ancient pagan festival of Charshanbe Soori, which is held on the eve of the last Wednesday of the Persian calendar year.
They said police were deployed in Tehran's Haft-e Tir Square, Saadat Abad and Velanjak — regular venues for opposition protests over last June's disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
For the past 10 months, opposition supporters have used public events to stage anti-government demonstrations, and security forces have warned they will crack down on any such outbursts staged on Tuesday.
"People should hold the celebration near their homes. Gatherings in main streets will be confronted," a senior police official was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
Charshanbe Soori is a prelude to Nowrouz, the Persian New Year which starts on March 21 and marks the arrival of spring.
Iranians celebrate the festival by lighting bonfires in public places and leaping over the flames, shouting "Sorkhiye to az man, Zardiye man az to (Give me your redness and I will give you my paleness)."
Jumping over the flames symbolises a hope for happiness in the new year and an end to the suffering of the year gone by.
Khamenei said the festival has "no basis in sharia (Islamic religious law) and creates a lot of harm and corruption, (which is why) it is appropriate to avoid it."
Every year casualties are reported, many from burn injuries, including from accidents linked to firecrackers. Media in recent days have already reported the deaths of seven people making or lighting firecrackers.
Some clerics see the ritual as heretical fire-worshipping, although it has been marked in Iran for centuries and, like the Persian New Year itself and other ancient rituals, has survived the advent of Islam.
Main opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has urged his supporters not to use the festival as an excuse to stage anti-government rallies and not to provoke hardliners.