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Obama urges Mideast allies to 'get out ahead' of protests, denounces Iranian crackdown

Clashes between Iranian police and tens of thousands of protesters spilled into central Tehran on Monday killing one person, as opposition supporters tried to evoke the spirit of Egypt's recent popular uprising. (Feb. 14)
Government clashes with protesters broke out Monday in Bahrain and Iran, while demonstrations continued in Yemen.
Gene Thorp/The Washington Post

Pumping their fists in the air, the lawmakers chanted, "Death to Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami."

"We believe the people have lost their patience and demand capital punishment," 221 lawmakers said in a statement.

In the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, thousands of demonstrators marched Monday to call for reforms to their hereditary monarchy and clashed with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets. In Yemen, a key U.S. counterterrorism ally, government supporters armed with sticks and knives attacked pro-democracy demonstrators calling for the ouster of the country's dictatorial president.

Crowds massed in both Bahrain and Yemen again on Tuesday, with one person killed in Bahrain, the Associated Press reported. The death in Bahrain came when security forces fired tear gas and bird shot at thousands of people joining a funeral procession for a man who was slain in Monday's protests.

Thousands of protesters poured into a main square in Bahrain's capital waving Bahraini flags and chanting: "No Sunnis, no Shiites. We are all Bahrainis," AP said. In a clear sign of concern over the widening crisis, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa made a rare national TV address, offering condolences for the protest-related deaths, pledging an investigation and promising to push ahead with reforms, which include loosening state controls on the media and Internet.

In the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, hundreds of anti-government demonstrators and government loyalists fought with rocks and batons on Tuesday in a fifth straight day of political unrest. Four of the anti-government protesters were wounded, two of them in the head, Reuters news agency said.

But it was in a non-Arab country, Iran, that the fallout from Egypt's uprising seemed to be most acutely felt on Monday. In Tehran, large crowds of protesters defied tear gas Monday to march down a major thoroughfare, chanting "Death to the dictator." It was the biggest demonstration in the Iranian capital since the government effectively crushed the opposition movement in December 2009.

The crowds, which numbered in the tens of thousands, suggested that the seemingly cowed Green Movement that emerged to challenge Iran's theocratic regime after disputed elections in June 2009 had been inspired by the success of Egypt's revolutionaries. Many protesters wore green ribbons, the symbol of Iran's opposition movement.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the Iranian demonstrators, saying White House officials "very clearly and directly support the aspirations" of the protesters. She also accused the Tehran government of hypocrisy for claiming to support pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt while squelching dissent at home.

Clinton's comments appeared to signal a shift in tone by an administration that previously refrained from directly endorsing the Iranian opposition out of fear that U.S. support would backfire on the protesters.

"We think that there needs to be a commitment to open up the political system in Iran to hear the voices of the opposition and civil society," Clinton told reporters after a meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

'We are here for Iran'

Throughout the day in Tehran, people converged on Azadi, or Freedom, Square in the heart of the city, the symbolic epicenter of the protest movement that brought millions of people out on the streets in the summer of 2009. Some witnesses said the Monday protests drew more than 100,000 people.

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