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Defiant Iran taunts U.S. as revolution turns 40



DUBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians marched and some burned US flags to mark the revolution's 40th anniversary on Monday as Iran's leaders show off a newly developed ballistic missile in defiance of the United States efforts to curb their military power.

Soldiers, students, clerics, and black-clad women holding small children, thronged streets across Iran, many with portraits of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shi'ite cleric who toppled the Shah in an Islamic uprising that still haunts the West.

On February 11, 1979, Iran's army declared its neutrality paving the way for the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the United States' closest ally in the Middle East.

State TV showed crowds defying cold weather and carrying Iranian flags while shouting "Death to Israel, Death to America," the trademark chants of the revolution that ousted the United States' most important ally in the Middle East.

"Much to the dismay of America, the revolution has reached its 40th year," read one banner.

After decades of hostility with the United States, Tehran said it was determined to expand its military power and ballistic missile program despite mounting pressure from hostile countries to curb its defensive work.

Iran displayed its ballistic missile capabilities during the march, including the Zolfaqar, a ground-to-ground missile with a range of 700 km (435 miles) and Qiam, with a range of 800 km, according to Tasnim news agency.

"We have not asked and will not ask for permission to develop different types of … missiles and will continue our path and our military power," said President Hassan Rouhani in a speech at Tehran's Azadi (Freedom Square).

CRACKDOWN ON PROTESTS

In Washington, US National Security Adviser Bolton, who in 201

7 expressed the hope that Iran's "40th anniversary will not reach its 40th birthday", tweeted that after 40 years, "Islamic Republic of Iran has failed to fulfill its promises to uphold and safeguard the rights of its citizens. "

The large turnout in state-sponsored rallies in which US and Israeli flags were burned came as Iranians face mounting economic hardships many blame on country's clerical leaders.

Images on social media showed some demonstrators holding placards, protesting against corruption, unemployment and high prices.

"Our presence in the 40th anniversary of the revolution is to show our support for the Islamic Republic," said one.

"But it does not mean we support the corruption of some officials and their betrayal to the oppressed people."

Reuters could not independently verify the pictures.

Last year, Iran cracked down on protests over poor living standards that posed the most serious challenge to its clerical leadership since a 2009 uprising over disputed elections.

An Iranian woman carries a picture of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2019. Masoud Shahrestani / Tasmin News Agency / via REUTERS

of basic foods, especially meat, have soared since President Donald Trump has withdrawn Washington from the 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions.

In January, Rouhani said Iran was facing its worst economic crisis since the Shah was toppled. But he remained defiant, as the Iranians recalled the end of a monarch who had served the rich and unleashed secret police on dissenters.

Rouhani said U.S. efforts to isolate Iran would fail.

"We will not let America become victorious … Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties but we will overcome the problems by helping each other," he said.

U.S. AND ISRAELI "DOGS"

Marchers carried cardboard cutouts of dogs. One had the face of Trump and the other face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yadollah Javani, the Revolutionary Guards' deputy head for political affairs, said Iran would demolish cities in Israel to the ground if the United States attacked the Islamic Republic.

"The United States does not have the courage to shoot a single bullet at us despite all its defensive and military assets," he was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

Khomeini returned from exile in France two weeks after the Shah and his wife flew to Aswan, Egypt. He was greeted by millions of supporters in Tehran. Revolutionaries later began executing supporters of the Shah including four top generals.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Khomeini died in 1989 and was followed by Iran's current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Washington and the Arab world have viewed Iran with great suspicion since the Islamic Revolution, fearing Khomeini's radical ideology would inspire militants across the Middle East.

Today, the United States and its Arab allies are trying to counter Tehran's growing influence in the Middle East, where it has proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Some Iranians criticize their leaders for what they say are foreign adventures which squander funds. Iranian leaders say they are protecting national interests.

Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafeddin in London and Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles

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