Just two weeks after being confronted by students at New York’s Columbia University, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad faced a smaller protest much closer to home on Monday – at Tehran University.
More than 100 students gathered to chant slogans – some allegedly deriding Mr Ahmadi-Nejad as a “dictator” – on his arrival at the university and clashed with supporters of the president. Riot police prevented them spreading into neighbouring streets.
The protesters were angry because they believed a selected audience, sympathetic to the government, had been invited to the president’s speech to mark the start of the new academic year, while reform-minded students were barred.
The students chanted “‘Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is an element of discrimination and corruption,’” said Bijan Pour-Yousefi, a visiting student who was present on the campus on Monday. He added that the riot police used pepper gas to disperse demonstrators.
This is not the first time Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has been on the receiving end of student anger. His speech in Amir-Kabir university in December was interrupted by students who called him a “dictator” and burned photographs of him.
This time, however, Iran’s president was undisturbed as he delivered a speech that called on academics to find answers to human needs and insisted on Iran’s right to develop a nuclear programme.
The speech came a fortnight after Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s appearance at Columbia, where he was described as “a petty and cruel dictator” by the dean of the school.
“We also want him to answer our questions as he did in Columbia University,” one of the students said in a speech to demonstrators on Monday, according to the ISNA news agency.
The protesting students’ main demands were the release of three students arrested in May on charges of “blasphemy” against Shia Islam and the return of two academics – banned from teaching at Tehran University – to classes.