Thousands of Iranians have staged a noisy anti-US rally in Tehran to mark the 30th anniversary of the storming of the American embassy by students, as police and opposition supporters clashed nearby.
US President Barack Obama meanwhile said in a statement marking the anniversary of the event that sparked decades of hostility between America and Iran that the Islamic republic “must choose” whether to open the door to opportunity and prosperity.
Huge crowds from early morning descended on the embassy complex in central Tehran, chanting slogans such as “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
They also smashed up posters of the American “Uncle Sam” symbol and chanted “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader” — a reference to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The crowd was constantly being swelled by people arriving on foot and by bus, witnesses said.
About a kilometre (mile) away at Haft-e-Tir square in the heart of the capital, riot police armed with batons and firing teargas moved in as several hundred opposition supporters attempted to stage an anti-government protest.
Witnesses said the protesters, who were chanting “Death to the dictator,” refused to disperse and dozens were beaten arrested.
Opposition supporters have since June been staging protests at every opportunity in Tehran against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a presidential vote they claim was massively rigged.
Wednesday’s anniversary, which has turned into a cornerstone of the Islamic regime, event marks the capture by radical Islamist students of the US embassy compound on November 4, 1979 — just months after the Islamic revolution toppled the US-backed shah.
The students, who took 52 American diplomats hostage and held them for 444 days, said they were responding to Washington’s refusal to hand over the deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Obama in his statement urged Iran to look to the future rather than the past.
“We have heard for 30 years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for,” he said.
“It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity and justice for its people.”
Leading Iranian dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said meanwhile the capture of the US embassy was a mistake.
“The occupation of the American embassy at the start had the support of Iranian revolutionaries and the late Imam Khomeini and I supported it too,” he said.
“But considering the negative repercussions and the high sensitivity which was created among the American people and which still exists, it was not the right thing to do,” Montazeri said in a statement posted on his website.
The anniversary comes at a time when Washington is backing a sensitive nuclear fuel deal for Tehran brokered by the UN atomic watchdog.
US-Iranian relations deteriorated even further during the tenure of former US president George W. Bush, who lumped Iran into an “axis of evil” along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
During his first term as president, Ahmadinejad stepped up Tehran’s anti-US tirade.
And although Washington has made diplomatic overtures towards Tehran under Bush successor Barack Obama, Khamenei said Iran still distrusts the United States.
“Every time they have a smile on their face, they are hiding a dagger behind their back,” he said on Tuesday.
“They are telling us to negotiate, but alongside the negotiation there is a threat… We do not want any negotiation, the result of which is pre-determined by the United States,” he said.
World powers suspect Iran is enriching uranium to make atomic weapons — a charge denied by Tehran — and want its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to be taken out of the country.
In return, world powers would offer Tehran 20 percent enriched uranium as fuel for an internationally supervised nuclear reactor in the capital.