Iran's militiamen stage anti-US rallies

By MODHER AMIN   |   Nov. 24, 2002 at 11:14 AM
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TEHRAN, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Thousands of Iran's hardline militiamen staged a rally Sunday outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran to protest against what was called "America's interventionist and arrogant policies," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The embassy was overrun in November 1979 by a group of Islamic militant students who held 52 American staffers hostage for more than a year, prompting Washington to sever ties with Tehran and freeze Iranian assets in the United States. Diplomatic relations between the two countries have since remained tense with few signs of improvement.

The gathering of some 15,000 Basiji forces, among them about 2000 women clad in head-to-toe black coverings, or chadors, came as part of a series of events marking the national Basij Week in the country.

The commander of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps, Brig. General Yahya Rahim Safavi, whose forces do the task of training the Basij militia, delivered a speech at the ceremony and accused the United States of seeking to undermine Iran's security.

"America is intending to endanger Iran's security by occupying Iraq and creating crisis and tensions in Tehran's relations with other countries of the world," Safavi told the armed and uniformed crowd to the chants of "Death to America."

Safavi urged militia forces to increase their strength and maintain defense preparedness so that they could resist what he called "threats of America and the Zionist Israeli regime."

The clerical regime in Iran became outraged after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said recently that he saw signs of an early overthrow of the Islamic republic by the Iranian people.

Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, hit out at Rumsfeld, saying he would take such an idea to hell.

During his visit to Spain last month, reformist President Mohammad Khatami accused the United States of trying to hinder his government's goodwill gestures to mend ties with Washington.

"Unfortunately in recent years, Iran's every goodwill step has been met with unhelpful responses of the American side for a variety of reasons," Khatami said, referring specifically to Iran's role in helping to settle the Afghan crisis late last year.

In January, President George W. Bush lumped Iran -- together with Iraq and North Korea -- into an "axis of evil," angering Iranian officials who always talk of Iran's "undeniable" cooperation in the ouster of Taliban in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi has said that despite a slight change of tone in U.S. rhetoric toward Iran, the two countries remained at odds.

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