TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the crowd during a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Azadi (Freedom) Square yesterday. – AFP

TEHRAN: Iran’s president yesterday insisted “enemy” plots against the country would fail as vast crowds marked 40 years since the Islamic revolution at a time of heightened tensions with the United States. “The presence of people today on the streets all over Islamic Iran… means that the enemy will never reach its evil objectives,” a defiant President Hassan Rouhani told those thronging Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) square, decrying a “conspiracy” involving Washington.

Chador-clad women, militia members in camouflage fatigues and ordinary citizens marched through the capital in freezing rain to commemorate the day in February 1979 that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ended millennia of royal rule. The routes leading up to the square were packed with people as loudspeakers blared revolutionary anthems and slogans. Life-size replicas of Iranian-made cruise and ballistic missiles stood in a statement of defiance after the US last year reimposed sanctions following its withdrawal from a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani lambasted calls from the United States and Europe for a fresh agreement to curb Iran’s missile program. “We have not, and will not, request permission from anyone for increasing our defensive power and for building all kinds of… missiles,” he told the crowd. Speaking from a flower-festooned stage overlooking the square, the president warned that Iran was now far stronger than when it faced off against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in a devastating conflict from 1980-88.

“Today the whole world should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran is considerably more powerful than the days of the war,” Rouhani said. Seemingly reaching out to his political critics within the country, the president added: “The more we allow different ideas, beliefs and (political) factions the stronger our system will be.”
Iran displayed its ballistic missile capabilities during the march, including the Zolfaqar, a ground-to-ground missile with a 700 km range and the Qiam, with a range of 800 km, according to Tasnim news agency. Yadollah Javani, the Revolutionary Guards’ deputy head for political affairs, said Iran would demolish cities in Israel to the ground if the United States attacked the Islamic Republic. “The United States does not have the courage to shoot a single bullet at us despite all its defensive and military assets,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

The events yesterday were the culmination of official celebrations called the “10 Day Dawn” that mark the period between Feb 1, 1979 and Feb 11 when Shiite cleric Khomeini returned from exile and ousted the shah’s last government. The state has played up this year’s anniversary as 40 is symbolic of maturity in the Islamic tradition and the age at which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received revelations from God. But despite the official festivities today’s Islamic republic faces acute economic challenges as it struggles with a mix of domestic hardships and US sanctions.

State television offered blanket coverage of the commemorations, showing marches in cities ranging from Abadan in southwestern Iran to Mashhad in the northeast. Banners held by marchers or hung along the streets bore slogans including “Death to America”, “Death to Israel”, “We will trample on America” and “Forty years of challenge, forty years of US defeats”. A number of Israeli and American flags were set on fire by the crowds. An anchor on state television warned of hostile foreign media trying to downplay the participation of Iranians in the march but expressed confidence that “they would be confounded by the unprecedented level of attendance”.

Those who took to the streets were bullish despite the economic problems in the country, made worse by Washington’s punitive measures. Former public servant Saaghi insisted that it remained paramount for Iranians to stick by the revolution. “We are here to support the revolution,” the 57-year-old pensioner, who refused to give his first name, told AFP at the event in Tehran.

He compared the US sanctions and economic hardships to “riding a bicycle when someone puts a stick in the wheels” but pointed to advances in other fields as more than making up for them. “On the revolution’s 40th anniversary we are at the top for scientific achievements like nanotechnology or accurate missiles,” he said.

Cleric Hossein Firouzi told AFP Iran’s revolution had achieved everything it set out to in terms of military power, political identity and scientific achievements. “Iran has changed from a backwards nation to a world power,” said the 50-year-old. Current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is set to publish “a detailed statement explaining the ‘second step’ of the progress of the Islamic revolution”, his official website said. – Agencies