Thousands of Iranâ€™s paramilitary Basij militiamen have held exercises in preparation for anti-government protests that are expected to be held in the country on Sunday, May 15.
The militiamen, loyal to the country’s conservative Islamic rulers, staged the exercises at a military base of the Revolutionary Guards, according to Daneshjoo News Website, which has links with Ali Larijani, the chairman of the Iranian parliament.
Reformist daily newspaper Arman quoted a Revolutionary Guards commander as saying that about 3,000 members of the Basij militia on Friday held mock "street battles using the experience of events" that followed Iran’s contested 2009 presidential election.
The commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, told the units taking part in the exercises that the Islamic republic remained "vulnerable" to domestic "sedition," according to Agence-France Presse (AFP).
The term "sedition" is used by the regime to refer to an opposition movement, led by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, which were shaped after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.
Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi, once among the ranking elites of the regime, lost to Mr. Ahmadinejad in the poll, which they said was rigged heavily to assure him a second term.
Their opposition to Mr. Ahmadinejad sparked a large wave of unrest in the Islamic republic, plunging the regime into one of its worst political crises, and dividing the nation’s elite Shiite clergy.
The opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) reported on its Website that students from 19 universities throughout Iran would join students from Tehran University and Medical Sciences in their call for holding a protest and strike on May 15.
"At a time when the wind of Spring is blowing throughout the Middle East, Iran has not been exempted from the fragrance of this wind and once again, the universities, the bastion of steadfastness and resistance, stood up from under attack of the anti-freedom despots and gave new hopes to those eager for freedom that: yes, universities are alive," a joint statement by students in the 19 universities said, according to NCRI.
"For this reason, and following the call by students from Tehran University and Medical Sciences for holding a strike and general protests on May 15, we invite all students to actively and widely participate in holding the gatherings in all universities. Because when despotism is on the throne, silence is not our virtue," the statement added.
The Basij forces, dependent on the Revolutionary Guards, are estimated to have several million members, although the number of its active members is unknown.
Western experts believe nearly 100,000 of Basij forces, in cooperation with Revolutionary Guards, are trained to intervene in anti-regime riots.