TEHRAN – Hundreds of thousands across Iran marked the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution on Tuesday amid some of the highest tensions ever between Tehran and the U.S. in the past four decades.
While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech in Tehran's iconic Azadi Square denouncing the U.S., he also focused on encouraging the country 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 jetliner in January that killed all 176 people on board. Tehran for days denied its forces shot down the passenger plane before admitting to it in the face of mounting Western pressure.
The shoot down also marred funeral processions that drew millions of mourners for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.
“We should not withdraw from the ballot boxes,” Rouhani called out to the thousands in the crowd who rallied in the city in freezing winter weather. “The ballot boxes are our savior.”
There's also anger over Iran's long-faltering economy, which has been hard hit by the American sanctions. In November, protesters angered by Iran raising government-set gasoline prices by 50% 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.
Rouhani called on voters to still turnout despite "possible complaints and criticism.”
“I beg you not to be passive,” he said.