Iran rock'n'rolls for Khomeini

THE STREETS are decked out in lights and posters, the night sky aglow with a laser show and fireworks that reflect off the snow on the Alborz mountains dominating downtown Tehran. Plans are under way for a massive rock concert, amid one of the biggest street parties Iran has seen.

Yesterday, Iran started a 10-day celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that, officially, liberated the people from the Shah's regime.

But for many the festivities themselves mark another liberation of sorts, from the two decades of Islamic rule the country has lived through since the bearded figure of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stepped on to the asphalt of Tehran's Mehrabad airport on 1 February 1979.

Like everything in today's Iran, the celebrations illustrate the tension between hardliners true to the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini and reformers aligned with President Mohammad Khatami. Mr Khatami recently pleaded with his powerful, hardline opponents, who still exert great influence, to allow the country's massive young population more freedom to enjoy themselves, saying they need to be able to do more than just pray in the mosques. The pop concert, if it goes ahead, will be the first since the time of the Shah.

Rock music was banned by the revolutionaries for its corrupting Western influence. Now, though, no self-respecting middle-class household in Tehran is without Oasis tapes.

The anniversary also sees art exhibitions and festivals celebrating both the increasingly acclaimed home-grown film scene and, unprecedentedly, Western cinema.

State television has been showing recent Hollywood movies and Robert De Niro has been invited to attend a celebration of his films in Tehran, two developments that would make the gentleman who started it all 20 years ago turn in his grave.