Ahmadinejad: Egyptian Protests Herald New Mideast

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's president declared Friday that Egypt's uprising shows a new Middle East is emerging that will doom Israel and break free of American "interference," even as Tehran clamps down harder on its own domestic opposition movement.

Iran has sought to portray the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as a replay of its 1979 Islamic Revolution - whose anniversary was marked Friday by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech and state-organized rallies that included chants of support for Egypt's anti-government protests.

"Despite all the (West's) complicated and satanic designs ... a new Middle East is emerging without the Zionist regime and U.S. interference, a place where the arrogant powers will have no place," Ahmadinejad told a crowd filling Tehran's Azadi, or Freedom, Square.

Iran's state TV broadcast simultaneous live footage of the gathering with shots from Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, the center of Egypt's protests since late January.

In Iran's calculation, the revolt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak equals a blow to U.S. influence in the region and carries echoes of Iran's Islamic Revolution, which deposed the Western-allied monarchy and brought hard-line clerics to power.

Iran has been highly critical of Egypt's regime for its pro-U.S. policies and peace pact with Israel. For years, Iranian officials commissioned murals and other symbols to honor the gunman who killed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, two years after the peace accord with Israel took effect. Jordan also has a peace deal with Israel.

At the same time, Iranian authorities have been pushed into a corner by their support for the Egyptian uprising.

Iranian opposition groups have called for marches on Monday to express solidarity with Egypt's demonstrators. Iranian officials consider it a backdoor attempt to revive anti-government demonstrations and have warned of sharp crackdowns on efforts to return to the streets.

In Washington, White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor denounced Iran's "hypocrisy" for claiming to support Egypt's people while smothering internal voices of dissent.

"For all of its empty talk about Egypt, the government of Iran should allow the Iranian people the same universal right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and communicate in Tehran that the people are exercising in Cairo," he said. "Governments must respect the rights of their people and be responsive to their aspirations."

Tens of thousands marched down Tehran's main boulevard in state-organized rallies, some chanting in support of Egypt's anti-government protesters. Some Iranians set an effigy of Mubarak on fire while others mocked him with quips playing off his last name, which means "congratulations" in Farsi.

Ahmadinejad, speaking just hours before Mubarak resigned and transferred control of the country to the armed forces, urged Egyptian protesters to persevere.

"It's your right to be free. It's your right to exercise your will and sovereignty ... and choose the type of government and the rulers," said Ahmadinejad.

Last week, Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, turned the tables on Iran. Aboul Gheit told reporters that Iranian officials should listen to the calls for reform from within their own country rather than "distracting the Iranian people's attention by hiding behind what is happening in Egypt."

"Iran's critical moment has not come yet, but we will watch that moment with great anticipation and interest," he said in Cairo.

Iran is applying increased pressure to keep opposition groups from seizing the moment with rallies linked to the Egyptian crisis.

Security forces have arrested several opposition activists, including aides to Iran's opposition leaders.

Authorities also placed Mahdi Karroubi, one of Iran's opposition leaders, under house arrest, posting security officers at his door in response to his calls for an Iranian opposition rally in support of the demonstrations in Egypt.

Karroubi's website, sahamnews.org, said security officials informed Karroubi that the restrictions would remain in place until after Feb. 14.

State Prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi rejected an appeal for marches by Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was declared the runner-up in June 2009 elections that critics say were rigged to give Ahmadinejad victory.

Hossein Hamedani, a senior commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, said any attempt by the opposition to rally supporters on Feb. 14 would be crushed.

Mousavi's aide Saleh Noghrehkar and Sadroddin Beheshti, son of another Mousavi aide, Ali Reza Beheshti, were among those arrested, according to opposition website kaleme.com. The website said another opposition activist, Fariba Ebtehaj, a close aide to former reformist Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, has also been arrested.

In London, the British Broadcasting Corp. said the signal for its Persian service was being jammed beginning late Thursday from a source in Iran. The BBC said it believes the action was an attempt to block its extensive coverage of the Egyptian protests.

(This version CORRECTS that marches are called for on Monday).)
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