A U.S. reporter in Iran is estimating that a crowd of 200,000 is at this hour gathered in Tehran to protest the election claims of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. One BBC reporter said, "This is not thousands or tens of thousands, we are looking at 1 to 2 million people."
Iranians are filling the streets of the capital after the bellicose incumbent, who has angered not only the West but growing numbers of Iranians with his calls for the destruction of Israel and threats against U.S. forces in the region, claimed to have trounced opposition candidates by winning nearly 63 percent of the vote in Friday's presidential election. Supporters of the leading opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, have been turning out in the streets ever since-violating police orders and organizing in spite of a government shutdown of state-run internet and text-messaging services, and a blackout on social networking sites like Facebook.
According to observers on the scene, Mousavi and his popular wife, Zahra Rahnavard, made an appearance at the main gathering Monday afternoon. Mousavi said of the crowd, "These masses were not brought in by bus or by threat," a reference to Iranians being forced to attend a victory speech earlier for Ahmadinejad. He added, "They were not bought for potatoes. They came themselves." Reports circulated that Ahmadinejad purchased votes in rural areas, where he won most of his votes, by providing food to needy villagers.
The government went to extraordinary means to shut down coverage of chaos in Tehran following the vote-even jamming satellite feeds of the BBC and others-but Iranians took to the streets with their mobile phones and mobile phone cameras to find ways around the news blackout. One thing the authorities forgot to turn off was Twitter, the microblogging service that became the news feed for much of the information reaching outsiders in the past 36 hours, with hundreds of Iranians posting real-time news of the events and finding it as a means to link to YouTube and other sites the authorities thought they had blocked.
One video clip shows a crowd at a rally wearing the bright green scarves that have become symbolic of Mousavi's campaign.
"it's worth taking the risk, we're going. I won't be able to update until I'm back. again thanks for your kind support and wish us luck," read the most recent tweet today from Change_for_Iran, an Iranian student's Twitter account, after reports of street demonstrations increased-coupled with more recent accounts that police armed with tear gas are firing into the crowds. BBC and Iranian state television also are reporting shots fired by police on demonstrators.
Persiankiwi at Twitter reports, "there is gunfire still coming from direction of Azadi square. we are trying to get info" and "people are running in streets outside. There is panic in streets. people going in[t]o houses to hide."
An Associated Press photographer says he saw one person shot dead and several others who appeared to be seriously wounded in Tehran's Azadi Square. The shooting came from a compound for volunteer militia linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard.
"There has been sporadic shooting out there. . . . I can see people running here," added a reporter of Iran's English-language Press TV.
Overnight reports filtered out that the basijis, the term used for Ahmadinejad's elite paramilitary units, entered the Tehran's universities and beat students. But as images proliferated on websites of violence and abuse, it became clear that the protests are more mainstream than a university uprising, and that it will be difficult to quantify the extent of grassroots confrontation with the government.
What's clear is that local and international protests will provoke a much closer examination of the actual vote tallies. One running examination of the results is already underway at FiveThirtyEight.com. Experts are looking closely at provincial results and already have noted some irregularities. Chiefly that aggregate totals were certified, approved, and released Sunday afternoon, less than 48 hours after polls had closed. By law, candidates have three days after voting to contest the results and before the final totals are approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Experts are also looking at vote tallies in Lorestan and the neighboring Khuzestan province, the home of opposition candidate Mahdi Karroubi. The former speaker of the parliament is a popular figure, and in 2005 presidential elections won 55.5 percent of the vote in Lorestan and 36.7 percent in Khuzestan; this time his tallies are being reported in single digits.
While allegations of fraud, manipulation, intimidation, and other tactics are widespread, statistically detecting them is a challenge, notes Renard Sexton, a Geneva-based analyst working for FiveThirtyEight. The first thing to examine, according to Sexton, is whether it is plausible for Ahmadinejad to have received as high a total as the results indicate, winning an outright majority in the first round. The second question, Sexton added, "is whether the vote totals for his rivals are reasonable, given the fact that they have run for elected office before."
Few analysts are banking on results from an announcement this morning by Khamenei that he will direct Iran's Guardian Council to examine voter fraud claims. The move by Khamenei-who earlier welcomed and endorsed election results-is likely a way to buy time and gauge the strength of opposition to Ahmadinejad's reelection.
In contrast to the tumult reflected via Twitter and elsewhere, the Obama administration's response has been muted to the point of silence. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs delivered this statement Saturday afternoon: "Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities." On Sunday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was watching the results "with interest," and today Vice President Joe Biden told NBC, "There is an awful lot of questions about how this election was run."
For an update, see "More tweets from Iran."