Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ahmadinejad gets a New York welcome - Part 2

The evening did not end well for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As he prepared to host a dinner at the InterContinental Barclay Hotel Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters outside chanted slogans against him and the few guests who had not declined his invitation. Two New York venues - the Helmsley Hotel and Gotham House -- had already canceled banquets that the Islamic Republic's president had announced weeks ago. As the revelers arrived under a barrage of insults and boos, some covered their faces while others turned around and left. Ahmadinejad and the rest of his jet-lagged delegation would have to sleep in the same hotel later.

I want to ask him why they held my father for 90 days.

- Turaj Zaim, 33, San Francisco hip-hop artist. Zaim's father, Kourosh Zaim, was arrested a week after the June 12 election, apparenty for having given an interview to Canadian radio.

The demonstrators across from the InterContinental Braclay cried out, 'Come out, murderer!' But as a group of dinner-goers, including a cleric, came out from behind a police van and marched purposefully to the hotel's entrance, the shouts rose in intensity and turned into a continuous hoot:

Other slogans of the evening included 'Ashghal biya biroun!' (Come out, you piece of garbage!), referring to President Ahmadinejad, and 'Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein', referring to his rival in the disputed presidential election:

The green movement now encompasses everyone inside and outside Iran who wants change and freedom for their country 
- Akbar Atri, former student activist. Atri escaped to the U.S. in 2005 after being jailed several times in Iran.

The day's events had been kicked off that morning at 10:30 in Columbus Circle by a group of cyclists who had traveled from Toronto to New York. The group, members of Cycling for Human Rights in Iran, informed New Yorkers of the Iranian regime's crimes and violations as they made a loop around Central Park and continued towards the Iranian Mission at 40th Street and 3rd Avenue, the starting point of one of the rallies organized by Where Is My Vote - New York Chapter.

BoomGen TV's report on the protests includes an interview with some of the members of CHRI:

Ahmadinejad is not my president. 
- Voices of Iranians living in Iran. Iran Alive video art installation shown on Tuesday, September 22 in New York.

The protesters proceeded from the Iran Mission up 3rd Avenue to the corner of 47th Street, where the main rally was to take place next to the UN Building. The number of people grew significantly as the day advanced and soon reached the thousands. Eyewitnesses spoke of at least ten thousand demonstrators, but the figure has not been confirmed by the NYPD. The following footage shows a considerable number of people.

'Political prisoners must be freed!' - 'Liar, where's your 63%?' - 'Independence, freedom, Iranian Republic!' (NB Contrary to the revolution slogan which ended with 'Islamic Republic.')

We asked, 'Where's our vote?' and they answered us with tear gas and batons. 
- Hassan Alizadeh, 38, who had come from Iran to attend the rally. Alizadeh plans to bike to Washington, Charlotte, and Atlanta in protest.

In this video, the cameraman walks past crowds lining the street.

There are thousands in Iran who are in jail, who get beaten...
- Jewish activist as he is being arrested by New York police for blocking traffic while protesting Ahmadinejad.

The rally, at times boisterous, at others more earnest, was always spirited, with an eclectic mix of politics, creative sloganeering, and songs. At one point, Arash Sobhani, leader of the band Kiosk, performed a song. 'It is dismaying that in a country in which 70% of the population is under 30, a dozen old men who are over 400 years old sit in the Guardian Council and get to decide who becomes president,' he told the cheering crowd. 'This song is for the Guardian Council...'

Just outside the UN security perimeter, one Iranian accosted a regime cleric and engaged in talks (for version with subtitles click twice on the image to open in large format in YouTube):

If I had a chance to meet Ahmadinejad, I would say to him, 'You don't deserve to be Iran's president, because you are a cheat and a liar.' 
- Alireza Sadr, 30, dentist. Sadr flew in from Tokyo to attend the protests.

On 1st Avenue and 41st Street, a group of rabbis and Jewish activists were arrested for blocking traffic as they denounced Ahmadinejad. The New York Post said that Ahmadinejad had managed to unite Muslims and Jews on this day of protests:

Meanwhile, inside the UN Building, the General Assembly was in session. Ahmadinejad was programmed to deliver his speech at around 5 PM, but finally arrived at the lectern two hours later. Muammar Ghaddafi's 95-minute unending address was partially to blame.

As Ahmadinejad delivered a series of critiques and suggestions to a an already less-than-full chamber, the number of attentive diplomats began falling alarmingly. Delegation after delegation began walking out ten minutes into the speech as the Islamic Republic's President launched into an anti-Semitic rant about a 'minority group' which controls the world's business and media. The televised fiasco can be viewed here. Moments of interest are at the following time marks 10:30, 11:45, 12:10, 16:15, 27:50, and 30:05. The embarrassing footage shows Ahmadniejad speaking before line after line of empty seats. One twitter activist noted, 'I think I just saw a chair walk out as well.' The scene was broadcast live in Iran, through at least one official news outlet, Fars News, but was probably missed by most Iranian viewers because it took place well after midnight local time.

President Ahmadinejad left the UN Building after his speech to attend what he thought would be a more relaxed event: dinner at the InterContinental Barclay.

Thursday morning, protesters gathered at Brooklyn's Cadman Plaza Park at 10:30 AM local and walked across Brooklyn Bridge with the world-record-breaking green scroll covered with the signatures of tens of thousands of Iranians around the globe who say, 'Ahmadinejad is not my President.'

This evening (Thursday), the Empire State Building will be bathed in green, a fitting tribute to the thousands who attended the events of the past two days. Protesters will gather below the landmark skyscraper for photo shoots. However, the green lighting has nothing to do with Iran. It is part of the 70th anniversary celebration of the movie 'The Wizard of Oz' and the Emerald Ball which will be held at the Tavern in the Green tonight.

(For part 1 go here)

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