Has Iran's Supreme Leader Disappeared?
An underground Iranian activist has told Israel National News that the country's highest official -- Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei -- was spirited to a "secret place" for his own safety and that the nation's religious leaders are "scared." The source - an activist in the global Iranian pro-democracy movement who is involved in assisting a group of some 30,000 students located in Tehran and several other major cities - said Khamenei has disappeared. It is the Supreme Leader who controls Iran's foreign policy, and specifically its decisions regarding its nuclear development activities.
"I am told that Khamenei was taken to a secret place to monitor the situation and perhaps for his safety, and a helicopter was ready with a pilot in it to perhaps fly him out to Russia if the situation got out of hand," the source told Israel National News on Tuesday. "I am also told that prominent clergy went to meet with him hoping to force him to show leniency.... [Our consensus] is that [the] mullahs are scared."
Foreign journalists were once again banned, phone networks cut and Internet connections spotty at best as government forces tried to put the lid back on the growing unrest that again broke out during special observances on Monday.
The demonstrations, planned months in advance, were held on the nation's annual observance of the deaths of three students during anti-American riots in 1953, a day known in Iran as "16 Azar" -- December 7 on the secular calendar. It is a day that has "bitter memories for Iranians," according to the activist, who explained that the Shah's army had opened fire and killed students on that day.
Basij militia and police officers wielded batons and fired tear gas at demonstrators in Tehran who continue to protest what they contend was the rigged re-election in June of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They also accuse the government of silencing academic freedom.
"16 Azar" ceremonies were held in all universities across Kurdestan and the suburbs, according to an Iranian blogger who reported that some 700 protesters gathered at Kurdestan University alone, singing anti-government songs, waving signs ("Death to dictator") and chanting slogans. At least 400 demonstrators did the same at Payam eh Noor University, as did a similar number at Sanandaj Azad University.
"Demonstrators' spirits were high," said the activist. "Frankly, I was nervous, since all communications systems were down, and [I was] afraid of a bloody massacre. But the turnout was great when [the] cities of Kerman, Shahr Kord and especially Esfahan came out en masse and confronted the Basij," he related.
Basij 'Very Very Sorry' -- or Not?
"Students and most people participating were emboldened since there was confusion among the military, secret service and Basij," said the source. "Many Basij called [Persian-language] radio stations [outside Iran] over the phone and apologized to the people of Iran, crying for having beaten demonstrators under Khamenei's orders," he said. "They said that they were told demonstrators were anti-Islam and Western-paid troublemakers, but now they -- the Basij -- are finding out that they have been told a lie by the mullahs and were very, very sorry for beating their own countrymen.
"The two that I witnessed and listened to their call broke down in tears. I personally listened to such calls from callers who identified themselves as Basij," he added.
Demonstrators reported they witnessed many police officers refusing to engage and attack protesters, according to the source, who said the government forces were seen arguing among themselves. "Good news for us!" he wrote, adding that another countrywide mass demonstration is being planned for Saturday.
The situation may not be as simple as it appeared to this group of activists, however; the Iran Khabar Agency reported late Monday that Basij forces attacked students at the Science Faculty Building of Rasht University, beating them violently with batons.
"As soon as the students gathered and started to chant slogans, the Basij forces attacked... Three students were tied up by their hands and feet and were thrown on vans... the Basij forces today had gone wild," according to the report.