"Death to Ahmadinejad," Iranian youths chanted Tuesday night, during the fiery festivities taking place throughout Iran. The holiday celebrates the last night of the Persian year, and in recent years has become infused with anti-regime activity.
The main custom of the holiday is the lighting of bonfires, which one must jump over in order to purge sins in honor of the new year, beginning Friday. Thus Iranian girls and boys meet in the towns and cities to dance around the bonfires, which contradicts the laws of the country, as they prohibit men and women to be seen together in public.
In some of the cities, such as Ahvaz, the youths of the Arab minority declared, "Freedom is our legitimate right." In the western city of Sanandaj, Kurdish youth cried, "Death to (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad." Many were arrested in clashes with security forces, while in the background fireworks could be heard.
According to reports from Tehran, police presence was reinforced throughout the city, and in at least one case of violence youths threw firecrackers and a grenade at the officers. However, the demonstrations were kept mostly in check, and the police force did not face anything much out of the ordinary during the holiday.
Iranians dance around bonfire (Photo: Reuters)
The Iranian authorities lack the ability to fully control all of the excited youths in the country, and may even encourage them to let off some steam during the holiday.
For officials in Tehran, the last Wednesday of the year constitutes a headache of no small proportions, and each year they must deal with thousands of celebrators who often times break laws. Tehran police chief Ahmed Raza-Radan warned citizens at the beginning of the week to refrain from breaking any laws.
During a press conference he assembled, Radan said citizens must cooperate with the police if they intend to enjoy the festivities.
"The police force has resolved to detain any party-goers who break the law. The secret police will have full control, and will not hesitate to photograph citizens for evidence," he warned.
Regarding the ad posted on one of the youth websites, calling for all celebrants to join the park bonfire in Tehran, the police chief said, "Use of the internet to invite people to bonfires is prohibited, and no one requested permission for it."
Every year the festivities become an arena for conflict between civilians, especially the young ones, and the security forces in uniform and plainclothes. Last year, despite the police's diligent preparation, much of the festival centered around demonstrations against the police, and pictures of Iran's leaders were set on fire.