Britain's Iranians add their voices

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The Independent Online

The brutal security crackdown on the streets of Tehran inflamed feelings on the streets of London last week. Hundreds of demonstrators from the UK's Iranian community besieged Iran's embassy in west London in protest at the repression imposed on their compatriots at home.

Overseas Iranians have rallied in response to the violence in their home country, but the embassy has been the focus of protesters' frustration. Each night, hundreds gathered to denounce Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Their message was clear. "Down with Khamenei, death to Khamenei," they chanted loudly.

Their numbers have swelled since the turmoil that has enveloped Iran after the 12 June election. The crowds that congregated last week included a mixture of youths, refugees and professional people.

Even as Ayatollah Khamenei blamed everyone from the British Government to the BBC for the bloodshed, several hundred students rallied in Piccadilly Circus in London in a show of solidarity with their Iranian counterparts. Many held candles for the "the martyrs of the election" – those who have died in the recent violence.

If the embassy witnessed the most fervent protests, elsewhere reaction to events did not lack vehemence. Iranian-owned businesses strung green lights and hung posters declaring support for the democracy movement.

In the Persian Bookstore in Golders Green, north London, a poster of Neda Agha-Soltan hangs on the wall. "When I watched this video, I couldn't eat, and at night I couldn't sleep," said Behnam Haji, 30, an employee at the shop. Daily he checks Farsi-language websites based here and in Iran for fresh news. Every day brings new videos of police violence. "There are more like Neda," he said.

There is a little support here for the declared winner of the election. "We are a nation with 2,500 years of culture. Before, we had respect," said Sue Karimi, a native Iranian who demonstrated outside the Iranian embassy last Tuesday. "With just four years under Ahmadinejad, the whole world is against us." Ms Karimi makes use of Britain's better internet access to send her family in Iran the latest political news. For others, communications are less easy. Contacts have been limited by shutdowns of mobile networks and the fear that all calls are monitored.

Mousa Ghanimati, 27, a grocery worker, avoids the phone, using Facebook to stay in touch with family in Iran.

"If you asked people before what they thought of Iran," said Arash Mohajerinejad, a student organiser, "people would say they have a nuclear programme, and a president who says stupid things about the Jewish Holocaust." The demonstrations showed his country in a positive light, he said. "Now people see that we are united. They can say we are about human rights, humanity and democracy."

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