War on the streets of Tehran

From the scattered, fragmented reports coming out of Tehran today, it seems the Iranian regime was successfully able to prevent demonstrators from assembling en masse. Riot police, like the ones shown above (who may also be Rrevolutionary Guards in riot gear) beat back or tear-gassed the protestors in the streets. In some cases, like that of this woman shown here (warning: graphic), demonstrators were shot in cold blood. It looked a lot like chaos.

U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement calling on the Iranian government to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people."

"Martin Luther King once said," he continued, "'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."

It's hard to tell who has the upper hand, but it seems like there are still plenty of people willing to beat, maim, even kill their fellow Iranians. That's bad news for the good guys. Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist who's in Tehran, tells of a police commander who pleaded with demonstrators to go home because, "I have children, I have a wife, I don’t want to beat people." From what I can glean from Twitter and various reporting, the regular police aren't quite as eager to beat heads, in contrast with the hard-line Revolutionary Guard and basij militiamen. If we start seeing cracks in those forces, or the regular army, then the regime will really be in trouble. But it will take sustained pressure -- more demonstrations, strikes, and smart politics -- to get there.

As for Mir Hossain Mousavi, the unlikely leader of this uprising, he has reportedly declared his readiness to become a martyr and sent a letter to the Guardian Council demanding a new election. In it, he sounds reluctant to admit that he's past the point of achieving redress through the system. All he seeks, he says, is the restoration of the Islamic Republic -- not its destruction. That makes sense for political reasons, since he needs as broad a coalition as possible and can't afford to alienate potential conservative supporters. He's still hoping to attract the support of the clergy, who could lend his movement enormous weight.

But the clear implication of Mousavi's actions is that he no longer sees the supreme leader as the legitimate, unquestioned ruler of Iran. I'm sure an increasing number of Iranians feel the same way, even if the regime ultimately beats them into submission as we watch helplessly, glued to our monitors. And that will spell the end of the Islamic Republic in the long run.

AFP/Getty Images


Friday photo: Riga Rumble

Two pensioners fight during a protest rally, organized by trade unions in Riga on 18 June, 2009. Thousands of Latvians rallied in the Baltic state's capital as trade unions stepped up their battle against an austerity drive in an EU member nation trying to stave off bankruptcy. Some 5,000 people hit the streets after the Latvian Free Confederation of Trade Unions called for a protest against public spending cuts to meet the terms of an international bailout that is keeping Latvia afloat. The measures, passed by parliament on June 16, and due to come into force from July 1, include a controversial 10-percent cut in pensions. 'They might as well gather all the pensioners and shoot them. Then there'd be no problem and the budget would have the money,' said Nina, a demonstrator in her sixties who declined to give her last name. Other measures include a 20-percent cut in public-sector pay -- including salaries for government members -- and a reduction of around a quarter in the minimum wage.