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Hope Fades but Anger Is Alive as Iran's Rulers Crack Down

After a hotly contested election pitting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against leading challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, the government declared Ahmadinejad the winner on June 13. Mousavi's supporters took to the streets to protest the results, and were met with harsh security crackdowns.

When Mousavi asked supporters to join a major rally on June 15, Mehrdad was afraid he would be shot, but he went. Reluctantly approaching the main street from an alley, he said, he was overwhelmed by the crowds. "There were over 2 million people there; they reached as far as the eye could see," he said. " 'This is it,' I said to myself. 'If this continues, the outcome of the election will be altered.' "

Wearing a black shirt and green wristbands, he joined the crowds, raising his fingers in a gesture of peace. "We were not there to change the regime or even the leader; we just wanted to change the outcome of the election," he said. "Of course, the atmosphere became much more tense after that day."

For many protesters, the crackdown meant not knowing the fate of loved ones, as authorities rounded up hundreds of opposition members. Aida, a 22-year-old classical music student, was relieved Tuesday to hear that the name of her brother, who had been arrested while walking to the bus stop from work, had appeared on a list of prisoners.

Petite and elegant, Aida wears a green head scarf, a color that is almost reason enough to be beaten by security forces.

"I wear that color to show that we are still here, that the movement is not dead," she said firmly.

Like many others, she said she thought Mousavi could ignite the process of reforming Iran's political system, possibly taking gradual steps toward a broader democracy and greater civil freedoms. "We were realistic. No one promoted change overnight," she said.

Aida had campaigned for Mousavi in the streets, handing out green ribbons and trying to persuade people to vote for him. For a time, she forgot about her cello, her favorite instrument. "The unity among the people was amazing. I never experienced anything like this in my life," she said. "In the supermarket, people would smile when we spotted one another's green wristbands. Total strangers suddenly understood each other with the wink of an eye."

The first demonstrations that followed the disputed election gave her hope. But then protesters attacked a Basij base, and the Basij opened fire. "It was clear the outcome would not be changed," she said. "I became afraid to go out."

Maysam, a tall, slim 29-year-old whose father was killed in the war with Iraq and had achieved honor as a famous martyr, said he never expected to take to the streets to demonstrate against his own government. "My father died for the Islamic republic," he said. "But if he were alive today, he would fight these people."

When Mousavi asked his supporters to demonstrate on June 15, Maysam told his wife, his mother and his friends to stay home. "I was sure that there would be shooting. So I sat at home. But I couldn't control myself," he recalled. He ran outside, hopped on a motorbike and rode to Azadi Street, the locus of the demonstrations. "I needed to be there."

Despite the reported millions who joined Maysam in that protest, hopes of overturning the election were crushed Friday when Khamenei made clear in a sermon that he would not back down. "The competition is over," he said decisively.

The next day, at least 10 people were killed on the streets, state media reported, blaming "extremists" and "foreigners." Protesters say pro-government forces opened fire. The violence has deterred further large-scale demonstrations.

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