The Iranian public seized the chance to reject the regime -- even as the surviving hostage-takers have largely come to regret their actions.
For months, Iran's state-controlled media had tried to build up the day as a "turning point" for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's troubled second term.
The occasion was supposed to highlight Ahmadinejad's "victory over the American Great Satan" and Washington's implicit acceptance of Iran's nuclear project in recent talks in Geneva and Vienna.
But events defied the official script.
Weeks of "mass mobilization" failed to produce "the largest crowds in history."
The official news agency, IRNA, which habitually reports "the marches of the millions," had to lower its rhetoric to "tens of thousands." More, its reports indicated that, in most cases, the authorities had to press-gang schoolchildren into marching.
The largest rally, in front of the former US Embassy, attracted no more than 5,000 professional militants, eyewitnesses said.
And the opposition seized the chance to show its strength once again. The official media reported that "the enemies of the revolution" held rallies in more than 100 cites. In cities such as Ahvaz and Yazd, opposition marches pushed official processions to the sidelines.
That anti-Americanism is no longer in vogue (if it ever was) was further underlined by the fact that regime grandees stayed away from the anti-US marches.
In some cases, senior officials were advised not to appear -- for fear of facing hostile crowds. For the first time in 30 years, no major regime figure was there to address the rallies.
Khamenei and Ahmadinejad stayed in their bunkers -- dispatching Ghulam Haddad-Adel, a former speaker of Iran's ersatz parliament, to deliver the main address in front of the former embassy. Even then, he had to make a quick getaway when advised that an opposition crowd was approaching.
In some cases, the opposition's chants of "Death to the dictator!" and "Death to Russia!" were louder than the slogan "Death to America!" chanted by official demonstrators, often with little enthusiasm.
In some gatherings, non-Iranian militants, including members of the Lebanese Hezbollah and students from Africa and elsewhere in Asia, provided the core of the crowds.
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