Marking Republic Day, Iran Declares Nuke Progress, Cracks down on Oppn

As Iran marks 31st anniversary of its republic on Thursday, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Tehran as security forces cracked on opposition supporters, reported Voice of America.

Iran’s state TV showed huge mobs marching to Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square to hear a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said report.

Ahmadinejad admired the achievements of the Iranian people in his address and also denounced the West.

According to a New York Times report, the Iranian President was also quoted as saying that Iran had produced a first batch of uranium enriched to a level of 20 percent and taunted the West by declaring that if Tehran wanted to build a nuclear bomb, it would say so.

Repeating an earlier assertion, Ahmadinejad said that Iran was now ‘a nuclear state’, said report.

“When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb,” Ahmadinejad told the crowd, according to The Associated Press. But he added, “If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it.”

Ahmadinejad chose a major political event to announce what he depicted as significant progress in his country’s nuclear program but again denied that Tehran was seeking nuclear weapons, said NYT report.

Report said that the setting reflected the central role played by Iran’s nuclear program in domestic politics as Tehran confronts its worst political crisis since the fall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

His boast seemed a marked shift from previous Iran denials that its nuclear program is designed to create weapons. But it was unclear whether Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments represented gamesmanship or a step toward acknowledging the suspicions that it is pursuing a weapons program, said report.

In the meantime, opposition Web sites say security forces fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters gathered in central Tehran, reported Voice of America.

There were reports that leading reformist politicians Mehdi Karroubi and former President Mohammad Khatami were taken into custody.

One Web site – Rahesabz – reported that Mr. Khatami’s sister-in-law, Zahra Eshraghi, was arrested along with her husband, Khatami’s brother Mohammad Reza Khatami.  Eshraghi is the grand-daughter of the founder of the Islamic Revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  The report did not give a reason for her arrest.

Top opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi had urged their supporters to turn out on the streets for a peaceful demonstration.

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