Saturday, November 26, 2005

Iran militia makes show of force over atomic work

Thousands of members of Iran's volunteer militia, the basij, paraded and formed human chains in Iranian cities on Saturday as a show of force against international pressure on Tehran's atomic programme.

The basij volunteers became national heroes during the 1980-1988 war of attrition against Iraq. More recently, they have been employed to put down student demonstrations and crack down on women who flout strict dress codes.

In Tehran, some 3,000 basij, clutching automatic rifles and wearing chequered headscarves, paraded before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and chanted "God is the Greatest".

Ahmadinejad told them their militia spirit would help thwart foreign powers in an international dispute over Iran's atomic ambitions.

"Of course the (foreign powers) get angry when they see the power and spirit of the militia now governs our international policy, diplomatic relations and negotiations," the president said. "In reply to their anger say: Go ahead, be angry but Die in your anger."

The United States has accused Iran of using its nuclear programme as a front for attempting to make nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the accusation.

Iran is facing increasingly widespread international pressure to let its most sensitive nuclear fuel work be conducted in Russia.

Ahmadinejad has been reorganising the country's leading political and financial institutions, replacing key managers with those sympathetic to the conservative ideology of the basij and the Revolutionary Guard.

State media said nine million basij had gathered across the country but it was impossible to confirm such figures.

State television showed human chains and small crowds, mostly numbering several hundred people, in the cities of Tabriz, Zanjan and Bushehr. READ MORE

Several dozen women in the all-enveloping black chador garment formed a widely spaced human chain in the surf on Iran's Gulf coast at the Straits of Hormuz.