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International Rallies to Support Iranians

From Tokyo to Bogota, people in more than 90 cities plan to gather for rallies, concerts and marches Saturday to show solidarity with the people of Iran, whose government has grappled with unrest since its presidential election June 12.

Events in the USA include rallies in at least three dozen cities, including Boston; Helena, Mont.; and Fresno, Calif.

"This is about people expressing support for people," says Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which is coordinating the events.

Ghaemi says the global protest will show the Iranian government that "their actions don't have legitimacy in the eyes of the people of the world, and to pressure them to stop the violence and the human rights violations."

After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor by a landslide, tens of thousands of Iranians, including supporters of the main opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, poured into the streets, alleging vote fraud.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups report that demonstrators, activists, journalists and others have been arrested.

Nobel Prize winners Shirin Ebadi from Iran and Desmond Tutu of South Africa will lend their support to Saturday's events. Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban land mines, will speak at the Washington rally. "I'll be there because I believe in freedom, justice and human rights," she says. "People everywhere have a fundamental right to choose the kind of government they want, no matter where they live."

Mir Ali Mohammadi, spokesman for Iran's Mission to the United Nations, says Iranians did choose.

"Some people may want to continue their old, politically motivated protests and gatherings with a new excuse. These kinds of small gatherings are not a new phenomenon in Western capitals, which follow a known intervention policy regarding Iran," he says. "That does not change the result of the election in which about 40 million people, or 85%, participated and the outcome was fully investigated by request of the defeated nominees."

Renowned Iranian poet Simin Behbahani, 82, who spoke by phone from Tehran, disagrees. "It is a false election," she says. "There is no democracy in Iran."

Behbahani says Iranians who continue to agitate against the election results and the government appreciate the international support. She's not afraid of speaking out, she says, "even if they want to hang me."

"People know what human rights are, and they're taking our side," she says. "We thank them and are grateful for their actions."

Lincoln, Neb., will have a rally at a busy intersection in the afternoon. Protesters will wear green, the color of the opposition movement, and carry signs with slogans such as "Honk for freedom in Iran," says Manijeh Badiee, 29, an organizer.

"We really just want to show the Iranian people that they're not alone," she says.

In San Francisco, a rally will start at noon in front of City Hall, says County Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, an organizer. Scheduled speakers include union officials and gay community leaders.

"It would be wrong to not acknowledge what's going on in Iran," Mirkarimi says. "So many people are joining hands with Iranians."

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