Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Iran Erupts in Joy after Securing World Cup Berth

Reuters, Netscape News:
Iran erupted in a frenzy of raucous celebrations after the Islamic state booked its place at the 2006 World Cup soccer finals in Germany with a 1-0 home win over Gulf rivals Bahrain on Wednesday. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of the capital Tehran after the match, filling the night air with volleys of firecrackers, whistles and horns. State media reported similar scenes in cities across the country.

"Hello victory, hello World Cup. Iran is on its way to Germany," said Mohammad Reza Sadeghi, a shopkeeper in eastern Tehran.

Some took the opportunity to flout the Islamic state's strict moral codes. Young men and women danced together in the streets and some women briefly took off their headscarves, mandated by law, and waved them in the air.

Such behavior was last witnessed in the soccer-mad country when it qualified for the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

"I wish I could go to Germany to support my team. But they would not issue visas for us. They think we are terrorists," said Karim, a young man wrapped in an Iranian flag.

A large security operation was deployed and police blocked many main streets to try to prevent traffic snarls as thousands took to their cars to join the celebrations.

But though the mood was mostly joyous rather than tense, there were sporadic clashes between a hardline volunteer militia and revellers in eastern Tehran. A Reuters reporter saw at least three injured young people.

"They were chanting slogans against top officials. Then (the militia) attacked them with wooden sticks," said Mina, a teenager at the scene. READ MORE

Police tried to disperse people but they refused to leave. In other places many policemen waved small Iranian flags and some people offered sweets to police.


"Iran, Iran, we are proud of you," groups of young boys and girls chanted as they leaned out of car windows blaring loud Iranian and Western pop music.

In one traffic-clogged street two cars were involved in a small collision. But the drivers who came out to inspect the damage, instead of arguing over blame, embraced and began celebrating together.

Spontaneous public celebrations are unusual in Iran where mingling between members of the opposite sex and playing pop music are officially banned, though enforcement of such rules has become more lax in recent years.

With presidential elections looming on June 17, candidates were quick to exploit the outpouring of national emotion.

Front-runner Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative who says he favors improved relations with the West, sent a congratulatory message to the team even before the match had finished.

Campaign aides for many candidates handed out promotional flyers to celebrating fans. Cars were plastered with campaign stickers.

But the soccer win vastly overshadowed what has so far been a lacklustre election campaign.

"No election in the world can bring so many people out into the streets," said Mahyar, 27, his face painted with Iran's national colors of green, red and white.

One woman, in tears, said the celebrations were premature.

"These people don't realize. They're allowing these celebrations just before the elections, but after that things will go back to the way they were," she said.
Even Reuters is reporting the unrest. But these international media reporters tend to have minders with them and thus they do not go to where the unrest is.