Throngs of Iranians have taken to the streets of Tehran on Tuesday to denounce President Trump and the United States on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, carrying posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and vowing to “not compromise with America” in any way.
This year’s anniversary celebrations come during heightened bitterness between the two sides following Soleimani’s killing in January and Iran’s retaliatory ballistic missile attack targeting U.S. forces in Iraq, which injured over 100 American troops. Those taking part in the demonstration in Tehran also burned American and Israeli flags.
“America can’t do a damn thing through the sanctions,” said Ozra Shahbakhti, 50, repeating an earlier comment made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Even if we die from poverty and hunger we will not compromise with America, no way. I’m telling this to officials, foreigners, and America.”
Ali Akbar Nikkei, 36, directed criticism toward Trump.
“You stretch your hand for friendship towards us and then you assassinate our great general and consider this a victory?” Nikkei said. “You are too desperate to bring Iran to its knees.”
Iran also put missiles on display Tuesday while state TV broadcast archival footage of launches, Reuters reported, citing the Tasnim news agency.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution began with widespread unrest over the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah, fatally and secretly ill with cancer, fled Iran in January 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini then returned from exile and the government fell on Feb. 11, 1979, after days of mass demonstrations and confrontations between protesters and security forces.
Iran later would vote to become an Islamic Republic, a Shiite theocracy with Khomeini as its first supreme leader with final say over all matters of state. Anger over America allowing the shah into the country to receive cancer treatment in New York would later spark the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by student militants and the subsequent hostage crisis, which kindled decades of hostility.
State television referred to this year’s anniversary as “Soleimani Dawn.” His image could be seen on signs carried by demonstrators, as well as on a large poster off to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s side during a speech he made Tuesday.
The Iranian leader spent much of his speech praising Soleimani, calling him both a great military commander and a “senior diplomat.” Soleimani headed the Iran Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, but the U.S. has long blamed him for the spread of powerful roadside bombs in Iraq that killed and wounded American troops after the 2003 invasion.
Rouhani also focused on encouraging Iran to vote in upcoming parliamentary elections, even after officials disqualified thousands from running, including 90 current lawmakers.
Iran views high turnout as a vote of confidence in the country’s Shiite theocracy, something it wants to show as public anger still simmers over the country accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian airplane in January that killed all 176 people onboard.
“We should not withdraw from the ballot boxes,” Rouhani called out to a crowd in Tehran. “The ballot boxes are our savior.”
There’s also anger in Iran over its long-faltering economy, which has been hard hit by American sanctions. In November, protesters angered by Iran raising government-set gasoline prices by 50 percent blocked traffic in major cities and occasionally clashed with police.
Amnesty International says more than 300 were killed in violent protests and a subsequent government crackdown. Iran’s government did not release any death toll though lawmakers said thousands were detained.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.