Video: Iran funeral for dissident Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri turns into anti-government protest - only 10 days ahead of Iran's presidential elections

Crowds chant 'death to the dictator' in reference to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The biggest anti-regime demonstrations for years have taken place in Iran, just days before the country heads to the polls in controversial presidential elections.

Tens of thousands are reported to have taken to the streets in the central city of Isfahan following the funeral of a dissident cleric, Ayatollah Jalauddin Taheri. Chanting “death to the dictator” – a reference to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and holding up banners, the demonstrations took place yesterday, Tuesday.

Iran’s elections are scheduled to take place on 14 June with only eight candidates given the go-ahead to stand – each of them has been approved by Tehran’s Guardian Council - and all are all considered to be strongly conservative.

Nonetheless, the demonstration appears to have taken the authorities by surprise and suggests that resentment against the regime, which surfaced in the form of mass demonstrations in 2009, is still rife. There must be concern in establishment circles that the result of next week’s poll will also lead to popular unrest.

“This was a surprise in the sense that any sort of demonstration that is not repressed by the regime is a rarity,” said Sir Richard Dalton, Britain’s ambassador to Iran between 2002 and 2006, and now associate fellow on the Middle East and North African programme at Chatham House.

“Though one can quite see why the police in this instance would not want to wade in. It was probably a very sensible decision: the situation could have been the spark for others to come out on to the streets – just look at what happened recently in Turkey.”

A number of reformist candidates have been barred from standing in the presidential elections, a point that appears to have disgruntled those taking part in the rally. Among other slogans, they chanted: “the political prisoners must freed,” and, “Mousavi and Karroubi must be freed,” a reference to the leaders of the reformist Green Movement – the name given to the popular protests in 2009 when three million demonstrated after current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was returned to power. Mr Ahmadinejad is barred from standing this time, having already served two consecutive terms.

Many liberals in Iran considered the elections a stitch-up and two of the reformist candidates who lost the election, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, encouraged their supporters on the to the streets after Mr Ahmadinejad claimed that two-thirds of ballots had been cast in his favour. The protests were the largest in Iran since the 1979 Revolution.

A second televised debate between the candidates took place yesterday, less than a week after the first when several complained that the format was demeaning. Yesterday’s debate included a section where each candidate was shown an image and was asked to describe what first entered their minds.

The frontrunner is thought to be Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, which for the best part of a decade has been involved in protracted talks with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Mr Jalili insists Iran’s nuclear programme is designed for purely peaceful means, while most Western countries insist that the Islamic Republic harbours ambitions to build a nuclear weapon.

In response to a rival’s suggestion yesterday that Iran ought to consider cultural developments elsewhere in the world, Mr Jalili hit back: “Our cultural discussion is too narrow. We have much more to be proud of.”

Experts doubt that the result this time is likely to lead to more unrest. Firstly, there is no true liberal candidate to support and conditions this time are different, says Sir Richard Dalton. “Firstly, people will be tied down by the apparatus of the state,” he said.

“Secondly, people tend not to rebel when economic circumstances in Iran are hard. People usually come out on the streets when their ambitions are thwarted by the state.”

Sir Richard says that while the Iranian economy has been the victim of general mismanagement, Western imposed sanctions, in response to the nuclear programme, “are by far the biggest reason,” for the lack of growth. On Monday, the US announced a new raft of measures designed to stymie Iran’s currency, and car industry.

“Even as we intensify our pressure on the Iranian government, we hold the door open to a diplomatic solution that allows Iran to re-join the community of nations if they meet their obligations. However, Iran must understand that time is not unlimited,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'