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Iranian Authorities Warn Protesters Not to Gather

Aired June 20, 2009 - 08:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN HOST: (In progrgess) -- center. This is CNN SATURDAY MORNING. It is 8:00 a.m. here in Atlanta; 4:30 p.m. in Tehran. We're following that very closely for you today.

But good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining us. I'm Betty Nguyen.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN HOST: And hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes. Glad you could be here for our special coverage. We have been bringing you live coverage for the past three hours now. Several developments to share with you this morning.

NGUYEN: We are expecting two mass opposition rallies in direct defiance to the warnings of Iran's supreme leader. They were supposed to start about 30 minutes ago. We still don't know if they have started because there's been pretty much a media blackout in Iran and our one reporter there on the ground has been told you cannot do any live reports unless you submit an application and that application is approved.

So at this point, we cannot bring you any live reports. But one of our guests told us that he had heard that some people were starting to gather. We also heard from a journalist in Iran who says police are surrounding the area where the main rally is supposed to take place. Also, there was an important meeting of the guardian council this morning. The three opposition candidates all seen right here were invited, but only the man in the middle attended.

HOLMES: Apparently, some movement from the council however, the guardian council there, (INAUDIBLE) reporting that the council has decided to recount about 10 percent of the ballot boxes from last week's election. However as you know, the supreme leader came out yesterday and said it was a definitive victory for President Ahminedjad, so don't see what the point of recounting anything would be right now.

NGUYEN: And we want to tell you that we do have this story covered on many angles. Our Kara Finstrom is watching the response to what is happening from a television station, an Iranian TV station in Los Angeles, also getting feeds there to find out what exactly is going on in country. Kate Bolduan monitoring everything from the White House for us. Of course Ivan Watson has been with us this morning here at the Iran hub over at CNN's international desk right here in Atlanta getting the latest reports from the Internet as to what is happening in Iran. And Octavia Nasr, senior editor for Mideast affairs, also here in Atlanta for some perspective and Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent has been joining us from London this morning as we tackle the situation in Iran and what indeed is going on as rallies are supposed to be taking place right now as we speak. So we will be hearing from all of those correspondents in the next few hours.

HOLMES: And the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the supreme leader of Iran, supreme leader pretty much what it says. He is the one in charge, even though we're talking about a disputed election for president, the supreme leader is still the one who calls all the shots. We had a rare address after Friday prayers and Khamenei called on demonstrators to end their protests of the result. Take a listen.


AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Arms wrestling (ph) in the streets is not the right thing to do after the election. It only challenges the election and democracy. I want everyone to put an end to this. This is not the right thing to do. If they don't stop this, then the consequences, the writing, everything, they will be held accountable for all this.


HOLMES: Khamenei also issued a warning of a possible government crackdown if the protests continue. As we mentioned, we have our correspondents working this story and none bigger than our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, who was actually in Iran the lead up to this elections during the elections and then afterwards. Christiane, what have you been able to determine? Have you been able to hear from anyone whether or not these protests are even taking place right now?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems that at the moment, they are not. By and large they are not. Here are some of the things that we know that we've confirmed. That is that according to eyewitnesses, CNN on the ground who's contacted the two main squares that were to be used for these rallies, (INAUDIBLE) square which means revolution square and (INAUDIBLE) square which means freedom square are surrounded by riot and ordinary police, by several dozen, if not hundreds of those. We also know that one of the clerical reformist allied associations, the association of the combatant clergy, has called off its planned protest today.

We also know that the police chief, Mr. Radan (ph) has been on state media, both the news agency (INAUDIBLE) and also on IRID (ph), the state television, basically warning, explicitly warning the people not to come out because it would be in violation of the law and they would face very harsh consequences. He says that over the last week, they've come out even though the rallies were banned. No intervention happened, but now he said, it's different, presumably referring to Ayatollah Khamenei's speech yesterday and saying that they shouldn't come out. Otherwise they will be confronted with the full weight of the law.

We've also contacted one of the significant members of the reform movement very close to Mousavi and other reform leaders who have said to CNN that they have advised Mousavi and others to call off the protests at least for today because that would leave quote, our young people exposed to violence and danger. So that's what we know that we've confirmed ourselves.

HOLMES: All right, Christiane, And that supreme leader, it appears his speech worked. What we're seeing today now and not what we've been seeing the past week essentially with these huge rallies, he came out and said what he said and said stop this and it sounds like now, what we're seeing could be directly attributable to that. So what does Mousavi do now? How does opposition continue to this regime?

AMANPOUR: It's really hard to tell. We haven't heard from Mousavi. You reported in the last hour that there was a facebook posting attributed to him saying do not listen to the state media. It's all designed to confuse you, that the rally is still on. We don't know whether that's the case. We cannot confirm whether that was actually attributed to him. And we know for sure that a very important reformist group has asked him not to do this to save the young people from any violence.

So what do they do next? Again, it's hard to tell. The history of the reform movement in Iran has been spotty. During the eight years of the presidency of (INAUDIBLE) who was going to run this time, but then didn't in favor of Mousavi. In fact Mousavi very firmly There was a sea change in the tone of relationship between the system and the people under his eight years and also a huge change in tone amongst, between Iran and the rest of the world including the west. But he was not able, because of the hard line conservative ruling establishment, to push through the kinds of reform that the people demanded and that he wanted to push through.

Also, he was not prepared to call people out on to the streets or tolerate people out on the streets. There were two explosions of violence in 1999 and 2003 when students protested at Tehran University and they wanted reforms. They wanted basic changes. They wanted more leeway to live their lives inside Iran the way they wanted to do and they were swiftly put down. So the history of reform has been out and back, forward and retreat and we're not sure how this is going to play out. Certainly the last week has been unprecedented. There's been no such huge demonstrations of people power since the Islamic revolution 30 years ago, but the thing is, the leaders are from within the system, not outside, unlike the revolution 30 years ago which was led by Ayatollah Khomeni in exile in Iraq first and then in France, in exile and in opposition to the shah. That was a different dynamic, although the people in Iran today still want similar things.

HOLMES: All right and just one last quick thing. You mentioned there what we've been seeing the past week is unprecedented. Is it unprecedented just in size of these protests or is it also different unprecedented in tone?

AMANPOUR: It's basically, you know, as I say, unprecedented in 30 years. We saw something similar 30 years ago, which was much, much bigger obviously and it ushered in the world's first Islamic revolution and the Islamic republic of Iran. That was millions of people taking to the streets, led by the ayatollah in exile. This has been unprecedented in the 30 years since. And I can tell you from what I saw in Tehran, when I was there before, during and just after the election, the size of the crowds, the willingness to defy the riot police at the time who were out there, especially in the beginning. The slogans that they were chanting, down with dictator, we want our vote, we want our freedom. But also some of the slogans they were chanting to the military.

I remember back in the Islamic revolution, the people on the streets finally started putting flowers into the barrel of the military's rifles. And this time, they were shouting to the military soldiers of Iran, your green is beautiful, too, referring to Mousavi's green and obviously the color of their uniform. So going out onto the rooftops, shouting Allah (INAUDIBLE) , God is great is similar to 30 years ago, but the size, the nationwide scope of it is very different. And again, the young people are different today, much more highly educated, much more politically savvy, much more energized. The Iran is 3/4 under the age of 30 and many, many people under the age of 21 and this is a highly mobilized people who want something more, but they don't have the same kind of leadership as they did 30 years ago.

HOLMES: Our Christiane Amanpour, Christiane, we appreciate you. We'll be checking in with you again. And of course our Christiane Amanpour followed the Iranian election from campaigning through the vote and the protests. She shares her insight on a CNN special tonight at tomorrow, "Anatomy of an Election," here Saturday and Sunday tonight, right here, 7:00 Eastern on CNN. Christiane, thank you.

NGUYEN: I want to take you over now to our international desk which is really the nerve center of our Iran coverage. Ivan Watson is there monitoring the latest information and video that's coming in and out. And I got to ask you this Ivan, our biggest problem today is the fact that there has been a media blackout, especially when it comes to foreign journalists. We do not have cameras on the streets at these protests so we're not sure if they're indeed taking place at this hour. What we know is they were supposed to take place about 40 minutes ago. I understand folks there on the international desk are in fact calling people on their cell phones in Iran to see what is going on. So give us an idea of what you are hearing.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are the restrictions we're dealing with right now Betty. Take a look at this. This is a fax that our team in Tehran received today from the ministry of culture in Iran and it's basically saying you are not authorized to do any reporting unless you coordinate it with the Iranian authorities first, so our hands are tied right now in Iran. That is addressed to all of the international media there. So only state controlled media right now is allowed to operate there and tell what is going on.

However, we're working here, we're trying to get in touch with as many people as we can on the ground and this is what we know. There is a large police presence on the ground in Tehran. We're hearing about uniformed police as well as plain clothed. They're carrying clubs. They're carrying guns as well. We have gotten unconfirmed reports of clashes. We're going to work to try to find that out, given the fact that our hands are tied. Now from the social networking sites, we're hearing from protesters against these contested elections, the results of them last week, that they're being instructed to remove their sim (ph) cards from their cell phones because the authorities have been able to track their phones that way. This is something very interesting because the protesters, they've been spreading information like this informally on how to deal with the authorities. Let me tell you a little bit more what we're getting right now. This is from the facebook page. This is from the facebook page of Mir Hossein Mousavi, according to official results, the second-place winner in last week's contested elections. And according to this report here and again we can't really confirm this. We're going from a facebook posting, it says that news and reports are indicating a flood of people from surrounding towns to Tehran. All friends are coming to Tehran Saturday, 4:00 at Engalon (ph) square and that's already some time ago. We're going to keep following this story for you Betty.

NGUYEN: All right and I know it's been very difficult just given the fact that we're waiting to see what little information has been able to trickle out of Iran and to these different sites so we can gather it. So as soon as you hear something, I know that the international desk is indeed as I mentioned earlier calling Iranians on the phone in country just to see what indeed is going on because we don't have cameras on the streets, are not allowed to have cameras on the streets. So let us know if you hear anything else. We'll be checking in with you Ivan. Thank you.

HOLMES: President Obama's guarded response to the situation in Iran drawing a bit of criticism and some Republicans saying he should be taking a tougher stance. Our international correspondent Kate Bolduan joins us now again from Washington. Any sense that we're going to hear anything from the president and whatever we do hear, is it going to be a little tougher like some of his critics say he should be?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We want to see how today's event unfold and how things progress if they progress today in Iran. The White House so far continues its hands-off approach to this situation despite increasing pressure that the president do more, say more as it relates to the Iranian protests, the election results and the demonstrations that have been taking place. The president, he said earlier this week that he doesn't think it's productive to be seen as meddling in the internal affairs and domestic issues in Iran. And he continued and he maintains that cautious tone in an interview Friday with Harry Smith of CBS News. Listen here.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very concerned based on some of the tenor of and tone of the statements that have been made, that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching and how they approach and deal with people who are through peaceful means trying to be heard, will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and is not.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Now if there would be an escalation of violence, if the regime would use force to crack down on these demonstrations that we've been talking about this morning, it will be important and interesting to watch to see if the administration, if the president's tone does shift, if we hear a more significant statement coming out of the White House in response. Back to TJ.

HOLMES: Republicans have criticism for the president and the tone he's taking. What kind of tone are they taking?

BOLDUAN: Definitely a stronger tone. Both the House and the Senate yet passed overwhelmingly a nonbinding resolutions, really symbolic gestures to the demonstrators, to the protesters over in Iran, really condemning the violence and condemning the election results and how things were handled over there. Lawmakers criticizing, many lawmakers criticizing the president for what they considered to be too muted of a response. Listen here to Eric Cantor. He's the number two Republican in the House.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R) MINORITY WHIP: We are here because when America hears the call for freedom, we ought to answer. And all of us believe that America has a moral responsibility to speak out on behalf of the Iranian people.


BOLDUAN: Now when asked about this resolution, the White House told CNN yesterday that really, they welcome it. If you look at the broader message of these resolutions coming from Congress, the White House feels that it really mirrors the administration's position of wanting to respect the will of the Iranian people TJ.

HOLMES: Kate Bolduan for us from the White House, again we appreciate you this morning and of course always, we want to hear your thoughts out there folks on this situation developing in Iran. Go to all those places. You know where to find us, also on our blog, By all means, chime in.

NGUYEN: And you are watching a special edition of CNN Saturday morning, the treatment of women in Iran. We're going to delve into that topic next because that's going to really driving force in this critical reform in Iran. So we're going to tackle that issue. Stay right here. We have continuing coverage.


NGUYEN: Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants election protests to end and in a rare address after Friday's prayers, Khamenei issued a warning to protest leaders. Take a look.


AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There's political elites want to ignore law and break the law and take wrong measures which are harmful. They will be held accountable for all the violence and blood and rioting.


NGUYEN: As you have seen, Iran's capital has been rocked by demonstrations almost daily since President Mahmoud Ahminedjad's won reelection on June 12th. Mir Hossein Mousavi, well he promised to restore women's rights as he campaigned to be Iran's next president. That promise was not lost on Rudi Bakhtiar even though her family suffered great losses under Mousavi when he was the prime minister. The former HLN and Fox News anchor joins me now this morning. She's now the public affairs alliance of Iranian Americans and I thank you for joining us. First of all, let's talk about your personal experience with your family and Mousavi. Give us an idea of what you faced.

RUDI BAKHTIAR: Well I was in Iran during the revolution in Iran in '79. My uncle was the prime minister at the time and our family obviously was targeted post revolution. Many of my family members arrested, many executed. The prime minister himself (INAUDIBLE) in France was also assassinated, so I don't have a very fond memory of Mousavi or this government in particular. But the reason why I am so passionate about what's going on is because of the people of Iran. The people of Iran, I have seen them take to the streets under the most dire of conditions, day after day after day, when they are being stabbed randomly by rogue elements, when they are being fired upon, when they are being beaten, women are being beaten.

And yet, fearlessly every day, they are taking to the streets and for the first time, the supreme leader of Iran has had to backtrack on his words and we saw him do it last week and then yesterday, trying to get his footing back and issuing an edict telling people if you go out again, there will be bloodshed and that bloodshed will be on the hands of Mousavi and yet we are hearing again today that people are so impassioned that they are going to be taking to the streets. And last night my friend from France forwarded me the first video out of Tehran of the (INAUDIBLE) from the rooftop and I got chills because it was so reminiscent of the days leading up to the revolution of '79. And from what we are hearing, these (INAUDIBLE) have become louder and it is a sign that the people of Iran heard Khamenei. They heard what he said not to go out in the streets and that they're praying for today because people are going to take to the streets.

NGUYEN: Well, we're waiting to see the results of that if indeed we are going to be able to get those pictures of them on the streets. As you know as you talked about, the warning is out there. If you do, you're going to face the consequences. I want to get back to Mousavi for just a second because a lot of these reformists are really hanging all of this on him, hoping that he's going to be that agent of change. Will he truly be the agent of change especially when it comes to women and women's rights?

BAKHTIAR: He certainly has a lot to think about today in asking the people to take to the streets or not to take to the streets because Khamenei has made it very clear on what he intended to do. He has through his wife been the champion of the women's movement in Iran. The women's movement actually started shortly after the revolution of Iran when all of women's rights were stripped from them. Senior judges like the Nobel laureate (INAUDIBLE) were stripped from their legal rights and they were taken off the bench. She was one of the first judges in Iran and she was told to step town. Lawyers, female lawyers were told that they cannot practice law anymore. So it's been a struggle since day one for women to get their rights back. And what you heard in this election, which you had never heard before inside of Iran in any election, is (INAUDIBLE) the wife of Mousavi saying openly that women are equal to men, something that's so basic in other parts of the world, it's not a given anymore in Iran. And this is very difficult for the women of Iran. Fifth percent of the universities are filled with females.

NGUYEN: Sixty three percent in fact, Iranian college students are women. You talk a lot about Mousavi's wife. I want to hear from you about Mousavi. What has he promised when it comes to women's rights?

BAKHTIAR: Again, he has left that discussion up to his wife and again, this was the first time that we saw a female standing side by side with any candidate who was running for the presidency. This was a very different election that I had ever witnessed, both inside and outside of the country. What he would have been able to do was the big question because as you see, there's been a lot of discussion on how much power Khamenei yields, the supreme leader wields. Is he the be all and end all in Iran? And yesterday we saw him wielding his power and saying that yes, I am the last word on Iran.

And so you know, the Islamic republic has very different views from what Mousavi's wife would have liked to see and what the Iranian women would like to see. However, the women's movement is alive and well and strong inside of Iran. They've made great strides themselves inside the country. They have a long ways to go but they are powerful and they are doing well.

NGUYEN: And they are also at the forefront of these protests as well and we are watching very closely today to see whether they do indeed take to the streets again today in defiance of the supreme leader's warning not to or you will face the consequences. Rudi Bakhtair, as always, great talking to you.

BAKHTIAR: Thank you Betty.

HOLMES: And we will see what happens today. We are waiting to see if anything has happened yet. Protests were supposed to take place about an hour ago, were supposed to start at least. We have got no word, no pictures about whether or not they actually are happening, only word that in fact police were surrounding the two squares where those protests were supposed to happen. We are at a pretty much media blackout, was very limited, restricted on what we can and cannot report from there, so we are watching state television, getting reports from people on the ground as well. We'll bring you all of that as we get it. Stay with us. Our special coverage comes back right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOLMES: Good morning everybody. Welcome back to this CNN special coverage of what's happening in Iran. Let me give you the update right now. We are standing by to see two planned rallies, two more opposition rallies expected possibly to be similar to what we've seen the past week since the contested presidential election there. Those rallies were scheduled to happen about an hour ago. We have not gotten definitive word of whether or not those have actually taken place. We have only confirmed that police have surrounded the two squares where those protests were expected to happen. We have been watching thousands upon thousands take to the streets in defiance of the establishment, in some cases in defiance of the supreme leader there in opposition of what they saw in those elections.

We do not know now finally, maybe, the supreme leader has been able to quell some of that uprising because of the speech, the sermon he gave yesterday telling those protesters to stop. Our Ivan Watson has been standing by at our Iran desk this morning, is over there, again, keeping an eye on -- I know Ivan it's a tricky business right now, trying to get information out of Iran but you all are doing the best you can over there. Tell me what you've got.

WATSON: Absolutely, TJ. This is the reason why we have to do this here from CNN headquarters. This is the fax that our team in Tehran received earlier today from Iran's Ministry of culture. And it basically says international media is not allowed to report, is not allowed to report in Iran without first getting permission from the Iranian authority.

So a near complete media blackout on this critical day when these protests were planned. This is what we know. We know that there is a large police presence in Tehran right now and that there are pockets of protesters that have been forming, perhaps in the thousands. And when they try to move towards places like Engulab (ph) Square, where the protests are supposed to take place today, T.J., they are blocked by security forces, uniformed police as well as police without uniforms.

Now let's talk to Producer Lonzo Cook, who's been working the phones in Tehran. Lonzo, you've gotten through to some of the people in Tehran. Perhaps some of the protestors. Tell me what you've been hearing today.

LONZO COOK, CNN INT. PRODUCER: Well, Ivan, one of the - one of eyewitness said that he was walking through a Banax (ph) Square, one of the central squares in Tehran, and he saw about 200 besieging militia men. However, interestingly, some of them were wearing government-issued helmets and shields, talking on walkie talkies, showing a high level of organization and basically hinting at a rather ominous security presence meant to dissuade any protesters from coming.

WATSON: And this is one of the protesters that you spoke with?

COOK: Well, that was actually an eyewitness, yes, he was on his way.

Separately, more interesting perhaps, I spoke to a different protester who said that about a mile away from Revolutionary Square, which is one of the main organizing points, hundreds of protesters walking towards that square with the intention of launching a demonstration. Some of the besieging militia men dropped at least two tear gas cannisters amongst the crowd in an effort to dissuade them from gathering. Some of the crowd has decided to turn back and they're now re-grouping a couple of streets away, and trying to consider their options and whether or not to proceed with the protests.

WATSON: Tear gas, are we getting any accounts of use of force, Lonzo?

COOK: No, I spoke to the eyewitness. And they were quite clear not to describe it not as a clash. Basically it was only a couple of besieging militiamen, but they tossed the tear gas like small grenades amongst the feet of the crowds and of course, with the kind of horrible effects that has, that turned some of them back, but he was very, very clear not to describe it as a clash.

WATSON: And of course, T.J., we cannot identify these people that we're speaking with because there have been waves of arrests conducted over the course of the past week. What we're hearing from social networking sites is that some of these protesters, they're spreading news that you've got to remove your SIM cards from your cell phones. That's one of the ways they're trying to evade the authorities.

Now this is a very complicated story, T.J. I want to point out our web page over here. Thank you, Lonzo. Our web page,, if you want to learn about the intricacies of what's going on. Iran is a massive country. It's got a very unique system of government and a long history of not only these kinds of protests, but a complicated history. Thousands of years of civilization. Go to to check that out. T.J.?

HOLMES: Okay, and Ivan, if you want to get Lonzo back up, okay, but on this point, it sounds like the news we're getting, because we have been waiting to see what's happening with these protests. We don't have those pictures. We are monitoring Iranian state television, waiting to see something as well, but it sounds like, this is the first word we're getting, that in fact yes, people have taken to the streets. They are trying to get into the squares to do these protests, but they are being turned away.

WATSON: Absolutely. That's the word we're getting from the folks we're talking to on the ground there. Large police presence in and around those main squares where this is supposed to take place. And take a look at this. This is supposed to be the Facebook page of the main opposition presidential candidate, Mir Hussein, Mousavi, who has called last week's presidential elections a fraud. He says the results were cheated. And here, they have been calling for protesters to show up, to come to these squares to show up. And they are meeting resistance from police and also from this Basiege (ph) pro-government militia. And one eyewitness describing the use of tear gas being used to break up these small pockets of protesters, T.J.

HOLMES: All right, Ivan Watson, we appreciate having you this morning and appreciate you and all the work all the editors and producers are doing over there to try to get this information to us. Thank you so much. But again, Betty, sounds like the word, important word right now we are getting that in fact yes, they are trying to get out to the streets. Protesters are there in the hundreds and maybe thousands, being turned away. One eyewitness at least telling us tear gas being used. Not calling it a clash of any kind just yet, but still protesters not being allowed to do what they're...

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Right. And I'm getting confirmation of that as well on my Facebook site. I want to go it right. Michelle says I just spoke to my uncle in Iran and he says that people are in the streets in few numbers. Everyone, please pray for the people. They need the strength and courage to fight this corrupt regime. But from Michelle, she just spoke with her uncle in Iran. This was about 30 minutes ago. And he says that people are in the streets, although they say few in number at this point. Of course, that was 30 minutes ago. there's no telling what is happening at this hour.

Unfortunately, there is that media blackout. And we can't bring you those lives pictures. But you know, the beauty of the Internet, the beauty of the technology out there today is that people are going to find a way. And that information will start to circulate. And as soon as it does, we'll bring it to you right here on CNN.


HOLMES: So once again, we can see you there, a lot of our producers, and managers, editors on the international desk, our Iran desk, trying to collect as much information as we can, credible information, which is so tough right now to verify a lot of things because of the media blackout in Iran.

However, we are being told that protests are happening right now for people on the ground reporting to us. Protesters are trying to get into the main squares, where they're trying to hold these protests today. However, they have been turned back by police. So our crew here will continue to monitor what's happening there, bring you the latest as we get it.

Well, a lot of things are being posted on websites as we know by students. A lot of them mobilized at the powerful protest groups. But Iran's election results were in fact announced. Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti joins us now from New York. She's been monitoring Iran, election, reaction, a blogger and women's rights activists. Tell us what is - what are people hearing? What do you have?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI: Well, T.J., we're at a cafe that just opened, a wireless cafe. This place is very popular with Columbia University students. And one of them is joining us as you indicated. Her name is Layla. At this point, you'd just like to identify yourself by your first name at this time for possible security reasons. And I wanted you to tell us, I know you've been monitoring the situation, Twitter, Facebook. We are hearing reports that some people are already trying to make their way to some of the squares in Tehran. What are you hearing? LAYLA: I'm hearing from a friend on Facebook that they are going to the rally today. And their families as well are going there. And it seems that nothing can stop them of going there. And it is really solidarity between these people are going that this inform each other to go and just encourage each other to go is what I heard from Facebook, Tweeter, and the other websites. Yeah.

CANDIOTTI: I hear a sense of excitement in your voice, but am I right about that? What about concern?

LAYLA: It is I think more - I'm worried more than excited. You know, and worried about the people. I'm worried what's going to happen. You know, we don't know what the police would react there, you know, what the militia would react there. I'm much more worried about the bloodshed.

And I hope it never happens today, but I think I am much more worried about that.

CANDIOTTI: What do you expect the turnout will be? It's hard to predict. We know the supreme leader Khamenei said yesterday if people come out, then the people themselves will be responsible for any bloodshed, any violence.

LAYLA: Uh-huh, really nobody really know what the people would do. You know, I think that - I think we should just know and (INAUDIBLE) what is the collective will of people would be. You know, they would decide what they want to do. And I think we should any way, we should follow them. And we should support them in any way. If they want to stay at home at this time, I would appreciate them. If they want to go to the streets after all of these things, the supreme leader Khamenei told, again I appreciate them and I support them.

CANDIOTTI: We are also joined now by a friend of yours. And this Professor Golbarg Bashi. You are a professor at Rutgers University. Is that correct? And you specialize in human rights and women's studies in Iran. Tell me the big picture here. What concerns do you have about any protests that take place today?

GOLBARG BASHI, PROFESSOR, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: I mean, obviously, we're getting reports that thousands upon thousands of people are going. And a lot of young girls are going, a lot of old women are going. And what I really hope is that women's participation in these demonstrations will -- if there are going to be changes in Iran, that women will not be forgotten because that has been the case in Iranian history, that women have always been on the forefront of democratic movements. They have always participated in rallies. They have been the sort of flag bearers of any boycotts. I mean, starting with late 19th century, the constitutional revolution, the tobacco revolt, and then the 1979 Islamic revolution, women were out there.

But once, you know, revolutions were won, women were forgotten. So my concern is obviously first of all, for the safety of the people, that you know, no bloodshed will happen . But also that you know, if there are any reforms coming out of the sort of dissent right now, that feminist causes will not be forgotten because women are really paying a huge price in this. We see old women protecting young boys from being beaten up. We see young girls out there, you now, being beaten up violently. And I have personally never seen such a huge female participation in rallies across the world, especially when they turn violent. And people, the picture of Iranian women is that, you know, they need to be liberated. They're locked up. Obviously, there are legal limitations placed on women, but women are out there, defying, you know, all limits.

CANDIOTTI: Thank you to both of you. We will be checking in with you again obviously throughout the morning to find out more about what you are hearing from contacts, via Twitter, via Facebook and other means. So T.J. will be updating you the day goes on.

HOLMES: All right, Susan Candiotti for us today. We appreciate you so much. And like we've been saying, we are trying our best here to bring in as much information as we can. Tough to confirm things when you're being blocked out.

NGUYEN: Right.

HOLMES: Like we have been by the government there. But still, we are getting some new information.

NGUYEN: Yeah, in fact we're getting three new photos coming to us from Iran. We're trying to upload those right now so we can get them on the air so you can see what is going on the streets. And Ivan Watson has been watching that. And we're going to be checking in with him very shortly about those photos. He is at the Iran desk.

We're also getting word that few thousand have been blocked as they were trying to go to the protests today, blocked by police there on the ground. A lot of information coming in, flowing through CNN. We're going to get the latest on that. Check in with Ivan at the international desk, also our Mideast Affairs expert Octavia Nasr. You don't want to go away because there are developments. Stay right here.


NGUYEN: Our senior editor for Middle East Affairs Octavia Nasr joins us right now. You can see she's on her Blackberry. We're on the Internet. We're getting all kinds of information coming into CNN because there is word that protesters are on the streets in Iran.

OCTAVIA NASR, SR. EDITOR, MIDEAST AFFAIRS: We're hearing thousands of them braved everything really, a warning from the supreme leader not to demonstrate, heavy security around the square where the meeting was supposed to begin, where the rally was supposed to start. Heavy police fortification and intimidation. It seems that we're hearing reports, very reliable reports that thousands of protesters showed up.

No sign of the leaders yet, but the protesters seem to be on the scene.

Really, when you think about all the restrictions and all the crackdown on the media, we still are getting a lot of the information out of Iran. And we're getting it because ordinary Iranians decided not just to be the news, but to be the reporters on that news as well and be the news agencies as well. Let's take a look.


NASR (voice-over): Iranian demonstrations, beatings and a tireless call for new elections have filled the Internet in the past week. Raw images, graphic and emotional, showing the resilience of an Iranian opposition that continues to ask for a new vote. Iranian have become the news and journalists at the same time. They turned their personal cameras and mobile phones into news gathering machines and uploaded video after video from Tehran to the Debrize (ph). From street corners, to university dorms, wherever news is happening, they capture it and upload it on the Internet. And the world receives it on the other end and broadcasts it even farther.

Several Middle Eastern countries have regional political and security interests in Iran. This is reflected in large blocks and high frequency coverage. Most TV stations and newspapers have been dedicating to the subject on a daily basis.

A headline, no doubt, in Israel and Arab countries alike offering news and analysis while highlighting the determination of Iranians and defying government controls and insisting their voices be heard. It's a similar story on TV.

The Dubai based al Arabya didn't allow a week long ban to report from inside Iran to stop them from reporting on events down to every detail. On Israel's Channel 10, a discussion about the new phenomenon of Iranian citizen journalism, which went from "activism to a full fledge d uprising according to some experts."

It's hard to gauge how many Iranians in the midst of these protests understand the scope of their cyber power. That's one of the questions we'll try to answer when Iranian authorities allow international networks back into the streets to report first hand. Until then, CNN will continue to cover the story from all angles, including the cyber ones.

NGUYEN: And as you can see, Octavia still here with her Blackberry following the chatter. There's a lot of it going on right on right now. In fact, we want to get you -- I talked a little bit earlier about some pictures that we got out of Iran. They are uploaded. And we're going to try to get them to you now.

HOLMES: Ivan Watson. Ivan Watson, you're keeping an eye on this stuff. What do you have now?

WATSON: Absolutely. Let's take a walk back here. This is coming from Twitter. Pictures today of what is described today as a large police presence in Tehran. Of course, this is coming from Twitter. You can see these uniformed and armed police with riot gear standing, rows of them, on guard right now. An intimidating sight if you are an unarmed protester and you're about to participate in an illegal rally.

And I got to tell you, we have to rely on sources like this for our information. These are some of the first pictures we've seen out of Tehran. We're not 100% sure that they're the real deal. This is coming from Twitter. The reason we have to rely on this, T.J., is because of this fax right here. This comes from the Iranian minister of culture. And it says it's directed to all international media. And it says you are not allowed to report in Iran, anything without first coordinating this with the Iranian authorities.

So our hands are tied in Tehran right now. What we know from eyewitnesses that we've reached on the phone is that small pockets of protesters have tried to approach some of the meeting points, the squares in Tehran, where this demonstration is supposed to take place. And they have been met by large groups of police, uniformed police. Perhaps these men here. And that at least in one case an eyewitness says tear gas was used to disburse these protesters. T.J.?

HOLMES: All right Ivan Watson, again some of the first images we have seen. And we need to certainly make this clear, Ivan thank you, but make this clear to our viewers. We are getting this information, trying our best to confirm it, but it is just right now in some cases, just so difficult to try to get the kind of attribution we need on some of this.

But still, you have to listen to it. You have to watch it, but that's a lot of what we're bringing in. That's what he was explaining. Maybe some of the first pictures. We believe it is. Again...

NGUYEN: Really, our eyes and ears there on the ground because there is a media blackout. Octavia Nasr, our Mideast Affairs editor, joins us now. And you know, we've been talking about the chatter that we've been hearing today. And earlier, you know, these protests were supposed to start 7:30 Eastern, about an hour and a half ago, but we knew because the media blackout, it was going to take a little time for the information to start trickling out. And now we're starting to see the first bits of it.

NASR: Exactly. You remember when we first talked about this. There were news reports that the rally was canceled. Remember that?

NGUYEN: Right.

NASR: And we said we're going to wait because we know the pattern. We know how things are. We can't reach people in rallies. And now the pictures are starting to come out. And they're exactly how our contacts were describing them.

Basically fortified police, heavy, heavy security at Enrulab (ph) Square, where the march is supposed to start, where the protests are supposed to start.

We're hearing that there is no violence, but there is a lot of intimidation of people. Just looking at these pictures gives you an idea. If you are a protester, if you're someone showing up to participate in the rally, this is basically either turning you around or you're not allowed in. That's - these are the messages we're hearing. But despite all that, we're hearing thousands of people braved all those problems and issues and obstacles and showed up. And they're staying there. And they're waiting for some sign, some message from Mousavi and even Karubi (ph) and maybe others from the opposition.

HOLMES: You know, right there, you say you take these bits and pieces, put it together, starts to paint the picture. But something else you're kind of piecing together, the chatter about what and when you might hear from Mousavi.

NASR: That's right. And that's something that we're waiting on. We're not sure we're going to hear from him in the form of audio and video. It could be a statement. But of course we're monitoring what has become his official website. He has an official website. He also has an official Facebook page. We also are in touch with people inside Iran, both supporters of Mousavi and supporters of Ahminedjad. As a matter of fact, both contacts right now, both sides are telling us that thousands of people showed up. It seems that they know that pictures will be taken and video will be uploaded. So the -- as much as the government would like to have a blackout on this rally, it seems that that is not working well at this point for them.

So they're saying they're admitting, yeah, thousands showed up. But they're now focusing on the fact that the leaders didn't show up. Basically trying to paint it as oh, the people showed up, but the leaders didn't.

But a lot of concern in Iran right now for people's safety. They know that this is a very brave act that people are committing basically because the supreme leader of Iran told people not to demonstrate. So basically, they're going against the command of the highest authority in Iran. And they know the consequences. They know can be arrested. They know they can be beaten. They know all that. And they still showed up wanting to be heard. And they know that they are going to take pictures. And they're going to upload them. We're going to see them. So they take that very seriously.

As a matter of fact, you have people in that chatter, you know, that conversations going on that we're monitoring, they're telling people remove your SIM card from your cell phone when you're at a demonstration. Don't keep your SIM card because that... NGUYEN: They can track you?

NASR: Because they can track you. So a lot is going on in the sense that, you know, people are getting advice, they're getting guidance, they're getting information. So despite all the blackouts, despite all the crackdowns, we're still getting a lot of information from people on the ground and also from our people on the ground who are trying to confirm. And they are confirming everything that we're saying.

NGUYEN: And this in fact is probably just the beginning of what we're going to see throughout today as that information does start to trick out of Iran through the different networks, whether it be the social network sites or uploads of pictures and what not. So Octavia, thank you so much for that. We'll be checking in with you very shortly. But our continuing coverage of the situation in Iran and the protests. In fact, protesters had taken to the streets. What is happening there right now? Well, we'll continue to follow it. And we'll bring you the latest, as well as pictures out of Iran. So stay right here.