One day after a violent police raid on a Tehran University dormitory, thousands of demonstrators protested outside the school today, demanding the resignation of powerful hard-liners in the Islamic government.
The protest and others that erupted today around Iran were reminiscent of scenes from the Islamic revolution of the late 1970s that forced out the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought Islamic rulers to power. This time, however, the demonstrators were demanding democracy.
"Death to despotism, death to dictators," chanted the protesters in Tehran, according to witnesses who spoke by telephone on condition of anonymity. They said about 10,000 people had gathered.
And in a demand that would at any other time have resulted in severe punishment, protesters shouted: "Khamenei must quit," referring to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, witnesses said.
According to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored in Dubai, about 1,000 university students converged on the northern city of Gilan. Protesters also gathered in the northwestern city of Tabriz, the news agency said.
Meanwhile, Iran's top security body condemned the police attack on students Friday that sparked today's protests and vowed to dismiss the police official who gave the order to attack the peaceful rally.
The Supreme National Security Council, chaired by Iran's reformist President Mohammed Khatemi, said in a statement read on state media that it "decided to dismiss the official who ordered police to enter university dormitories and that he be dealt with according to regulations." It did not name the official.
The body condemned the crackdown against students as "intolerable" and vowed to scrutinize hard-line vigilante groups.
The developments are the most serious in a power struggle between Khamenei's hard-line clergymen and allies of Khatemi, who wants to give more political freedom to Iranians.
Today's protests were provoked by a violent and unauthorized police raid on a Tehran University dormitory Friday, apparently with the backing of the hard-liners.
At least 20 people were hospitalized, and 125 students were arrested.
Higher Education Minister Mostafa Moein, a reformist, handed in his resignation today and apologized to students and academic officials. Outraged students and other supporters quickly began gathering outside the dormitory and by this morning a growing crowd had moved outside the main gate of the university a few miles away.
While the demonstrators apparently have the hugely popular president on their side, Khatemi has little power over key institutions such as the armed forces, police, judiciary, the Intelligence and Security Ministry and the radio and television networks.
These are accountable to Khamenei, the unelected supreme leader. He has long been considered beyond reproach, and anti-Khamenei slogans at the rally reflect the level of frustration among Iranians.
CAPTION: Students in Tehran chanted, "Death to despotism, death to dictators." Other students massed in Gilan and Tabriz.