Election outrage that turned Neda into a political protester

They banned memorial services, told friends not to speak publicly, and made her family tear down mourning banners from the front of their house. But Iran's authorities were unable to stifle the story of a young woman called Neda, who was shot and killed as she arrived at a demonstration in central Tehran on Saturday.

Friends of the protester, who became an overnight figurehead of the popular uprising after shaky video footage emerged of her lying in the street with blood gushing from a bullet wound in her chest, defied the orders of their government tell the world about her short life and tragic death.

She was called Neda Angha-Soltan, they revealed, aged 26, a graduate of Tehran's Azad University, with a passion for music and travel. She recently returned from a beach holiday in Turkey and was training to become a tourist guide, hoping one day to lead groups of Iranian holidaymakers on visits overseas. Hamad Panahi, Neda's music teacher, who witnessed her death and was among mourners at her family home at the weekend, told the Los Angeles Times she was killed after agreeing to accompany him and two other friends to a protest on Saturday evening in the city's Freedom Square. Their car had become stuck in traffic on Karegar Street, near to the demonstration, at around 6.30pm. They jumped out of the vehicle to stretch their legs, and were trying to see what was going on, when he heard a gunshot. Soon afterwards, Panahi realised that Neda had suddenly slumped to the ground. "We got out and stood to watch, and without her throwing a rock or anything they shot her," he recalled. "It was just one bullet." Her final words were: "I'm burning, I'm burning!"

Like many supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, she came from a middle-class background: the second of three children of a civil servant. She had never previously been politically active, but began attending mass protests because she was outraged by the election results. "She was a person full of joy," said Panahi. "She was a beam of light. I'm so sorry. All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted."

Defending his decision to ignore the Islamic regime's demands for a news blackout on Neda's death, he said: "This is a crime against humanity... When they kill an innocent child, this is not justice. This is not religion. And I'm certain that the one who shot her will not get a pass from God."

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Washington, President Obama described footage of the incident as "heartbreaking", adding: "While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history."

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