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Students Cry Out for Freedom in Large Demonstration at Tehran University

"What do we want? Freedom!"

That was one of the banners a large crowd waved on Wednesday at a demonstration at Tehran University.

As many as 2,000 students turned out to demand personal freedom in the Islamic state, which has cracked down on political activity on campus this year in what some have called the Second Cultural Revolution.

The theme of Wednesday's protest was Student Life is Alive.

The police apparently made no effort to stop the demonstration, which ended peacefully.

One banner, in Persian, read: "If I rise up and you rise up, everyone will rise up."

Another read: "Our struggle is twofold: Fighting against internal oppression and external foreign threats."

Photographs of Wednesday's demonstration were posted on Iranian websites and in the blogosphere.

The student protest was openly defiant of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who at the beginning of the school year asked students to speak out against the secularization of the education system.

The students apparently didn't, but an unknown number of professors who had been critical of the regime were forced into early retirement.

At the same time, students returning to the university were given "star" ratings by the administration. Students with borderline political leanings were assigned one or two stars. Students deemed to be vocally anti-regime were assigned three or four stars.

In many cases, three- and four-star students — regardless of their academic performance — were barred from returning to campuses this fall.

According to eyewitness reports, the area of the demonstration was blocked off by buses, and police forced cameramen away so that they could not shoot video.

According to one report, some students threw stones at news cameramen, suspecting they might be agents of the state documenting the protests for a future retaliation.

Student and academic sentiment could pose a problem for the Iranian regime. Seventy percent of Iran's population is under the age of the 30, and 90 percent of the under-30s are literate, well-read and seemingly aspire to greater personal and political freedom.