TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's reformist president appeared to blame U.S. foreign policy for the Sept. 11 attacks as hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied Monday to condemn President Bush's criticism of their country and celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
Angered by Bush's inclusion of Iran as a member of an "axis of evil" during his State of the Union speech Jan. 29, Iranians poured into Tehran's Freedom Square carrying anti-U.S. banners and burning effigies of Uncle Sam. The rally united both Iran's reformists and hard-liners.
President Mohammad Khatami told the huge crowd that the rally constituted a reply to "U.S. insults and trumped-up charges" against Iran.
"This year, despite insults to the great Iranian nation and the trumped-up charges against it, the Iranian nation has commemorated the anniversary of its revolt in a greater scale than before," Khatami said.
State television reported that millions of people took part in similar rallies staged in all major cities.
In a speech interrupted by chants of "Death to America!" Khatami said U.S. foreign policy bore responsibility for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
"The American people have every right to ask their leaders how long should they pay the price for their faulty policies. What policies and what reasons caused the Sept. 11 attacks?" said the reformist president, who in the past has called for an unofficial dialogue with the United States.
Some demonstrators wore white shrouds, a symbol of their readiness to die for their cause.
Khatami acknowledged that there were "many differences" among Iran's leaders — a reference to the power struggle between conservatives and reformists — but said the country is united in supporting the cause of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"Let's not conceal that there are deficiencies and dissatisfaction, but undoubtedly the whole nation is united in supporting the revolution and the path it has chosen," he said.
The chief of the elite revolutionary guards, Gen. Rahim Safavi, told state television: "Today's rallies are the biggest deterrent to U.S. threats. The people have shown they have remained faithful to the objectives of the revolution."
The streets were awash in color as people carried placards and balloons in the red, white and green colors of the Iranian flag. Helicopters dropped red flowers over the crowd.
Banners written in Farsi and English read "We still follow the ideals of the Islamic revolution" and "America cannot do a damn thing" — a favorite expression of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the revolution.
Bush said in his State of the Union address that Iran was part of an "axis of evil" — along with Iraq and North Korea — because it was seeking weapons of mass destruction. Iran rejects the accusation.
He also said Iran "exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."
On Monday, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied U.S. charges that Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have fled to Iran following the hard-line regime's collapse in Afghanistan and that Tehran has sought to destabilize the interim Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.
"It is not true. It is just an excuse to put pressure on Iran," Kharrazai said. "We have been supporting the central government in Kabul. And we will continue to support it."
Early in the U.S. war on terrorism, American officials spoke of better cooperation with Iran after it tacitly approved their campaign to topple the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. But recently U.S. officials accused Tehran of trying to undermine Afghanistan's new government and of smuggling weapons to the Palestinians. Iran denies the charges.
Monday's demonstration marked the final day of festivities marking the 1979 revolution, which swept the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi from power.