TEHRAN — Iranians held a nationwide celebration Friday to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the 1979 revolution with rallies around the country, and President Hassan Rouhani called the new US administration “a problem.”
Demonstrators in Tehran chanted slogans against the US and Israel. The rallies come at a time when new US President Donald Trump has already engaged in a war of words with Iran’s leadership and put Tehran “on notice” over a recent ballistic missile test.
Marchers carried “Death to America” banners and effigies of Trump, Reuters reported. “State TV showed footage of people stepping on Trump’s picture in a central Tehran street,” the news agency said.
“America and Trump cannot do a damn thing. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our leader”, a young man told state TV, in a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Reuters reported.
Iranian news agencies said millions took part in the rallies. “The demonstrators further voiced support for the Palestinian cause,” the Fars news agency reported, while denouncing “the aggressive policies of the racist regime of the Zionists.”
Among other places, thousands of demonstrators marched toward Tehran’s Azadi Square, where Rouhani addressed the crowd. He called the new US administration “a problem” and said Iran will strongly answer any threat from its enemies.
“All of them should know that they must talk to the Iranian nation with respect and dignity,” he urged the world. “Our nation will strongly answer any threat. (Iranians) will resist before enemies until the end.”
Rouhani called Iran the home of “lions” but said the country does not seek hostility. “We are not after tensions in the region and the world,” he said. “We are united before bullying and any threat.”
In downtown Tehran, hundreds of thousands of people marched, some carrying the Iranian flag, some with banners and posters with revolutionary slogans. Printed US flags and pictures of current and former US presidents were flattened on the road and trampled by some participants.
Iran and the US have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, when Iranian students stormed the American Embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
The rallies commemorate Feb. 11, 1979, when followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted the US-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi. The United States helped orchestrate the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, which brought Pahlavi to power and set the stage for decades of mistrust between the countries.
Some posters distributed in English read: “Thanks to American people for supporting Muslims.” Another one with a picture of Trump said: “Thanks Mr. Trump … for revealing the face of the US,” a reference to remarks Tuesday by Iran’s supreme leader in which he said the “newcomer” Trump had shown the “real face” of the United States.
Some people threw balls and darts targeting pictures of Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some demonstrators burned an American flag. The semi-official ILNA news agency reported that some demonstrators burned an Israeli flag.
Many ranking officials attended the ceremony in Tehran, including Qassem Soleimani, a general who heads the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force that focuses on foreign operations like the war in Syria.
President Rouhani told reporters prior to addressing the crowd that Iranians will make the US regret using threatening language, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
“Anyone who speaks the language of threat to this nation, the Iranian nation will make him regret” it, he said, without elaborating. “This presence (of demonstrators) is a response to wrong comments by new leaders in the White House, and they announce with their presence to the world that they should talk with respect and not use threatening language to the Iranian nation.”
State television aired footage of commemorations in Tehran and other cities and towns across the country, many of them in sub-zero temperatures.
Tehran resident Mohammad Soufi, 33 a medical lab technician, said Trump’s recent stance encouraged him and his wife to participate in the rally this year.
“We did not participate in the rally for more than 10 years,” he said. This year my wife told me let’s go out to show to the world, particularly Trump, that we love our county despite differences.”
Sorraya Khalili, a 44-year-old hairstylist, said she was out to support the government and object to US bullying of Iran.
“Why do people like Trump think they can make decisions for the entire world? Iran is an independent country like the United States. I wish Americans get to visit Iran to find out we are similar to them; we warmly welcome our guests and respect them,” she said.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted a photograph on his Twitter account showing protesters with posters with the words: “American people are welcome and invited to visit Iran.”
Zarif also said that Iranians on their anniversary praised American people for rejecting Trump’s executive action on the visa ban. Iran was among the seven Muslim-majority countries affected by the ban, which remains suspended while U.S. courts debate its legality.