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Students interrupt Iran president

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NEW: Group of students interrupt speech by Iran president, agency says
• They chant "death to dictator" before attacking TV crew, report says
• Spokesman for Ahmadinejad's office downplays incident
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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian students have staged a rare demonstration against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, setting off firecrackers and burning pictures of him as he delivered a speech at Tehran university, reports said.

Iran's semi-official FARS news agency and a student news Web site reported that a group of students Monday briefly interrupted Ahmadinejad's speech at Amir Kabir University by booing and chanting "Death to the dictator."

A student who attended the speech but did not want to be named confirmed those reports to CNN.

But Iran's official state-run news agency, IRNA, said the students "expressed their views in a cordial atmosphere," and chanted "Down with dictators," which was met with agreement by Ahmadinejad, who denounced the "dictatorships" in the United States and Britain.

A spokesman for Ahmadinejad's office downplayed the incident, saying that the students burned some papers but it was not clear if they were pictures of the president, as others reported.

The spokesman confirmed some firecrackers were set off during the speech, and that students shouted "Death to the dictator" or "dictatorship" but said they could have been referring to London or Washington.

And while there was some pushing and verbal arguments among students in the crowd, the spokesman, said he was present at the speech and saw no scuffles or fisticuffs.

He said some students approached Ahmadinejad after the speech and the president listened to their criticisms and requests, and assured them they would not be harassed or arrested for the incident.

However, an Amir Kabir University student, who witnessed the incident and did not want to be identified, told CNN that the protesting students interrupted Ahmadinejad's speech with slogans, including "Death to the dictator," "Get lost Basijis" -- a reference to right-wing students who support the government -- "Get lost liars" -- referring to the state-run press -- and "Political prisoners must be freed."

The student also said he witnessed the protesters burning pictures of Ahmadinejad, tossing firecrackers, and fighting with the pro-Tehran students.

The student told CNN the protesters were lined up in the back of the auditorium where the speech was held, holding posters of students that they believe are in Iranian prisons, and the pro-Tehran students were grabbing the posters out of their hands.

The pro-Tehran students held posters of Ayatollah Khomenei, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and tried to drown out the protesters with "Death to America" chants and loud clapping -- especially when the TV cameras panned toward the audience -- the student told CNN.

Cameras broken

Many right-wing students from other universities more supportive of the Tehran regime were brought to the speech beforehand, the student said. Several security guards tried to prevent the Amir Kabir students from entering the auditorium, allowing only female students, the student said. But the guards were eventually overcome by a swarm of students, the student said.

According to the student news Web site, ADWAR, the protesters were members of Amir Kabir University's Islamic Students Association, a reformist group that has lost its influence since Ahmadinejad took power last year.

The president's speech was interrupted several times by students, ADWAR reported.

Ahmadinejad responded by accusing the protesting students of having no shame and being on the payroll of the United States, according to ADWAR. But he added that he loved each one of them and said, "You insult me but I will respond to you calmly."

The protesters also broke the cameras of Iranian state TV, according to FARS news agency.

"A small number of who claim there is suppression here are themselves creating a suppressive atmosphere and will not allow the majority to listen," FARS quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

ADWAR said that after Ahmadinejad's Student Day speech, the pro-Ahmadinejad students were waiting for buses to take them back to their universities of Emam Sadeq and Emam Hossein.

Iranian state TV reported on the president's speech, but made no mention of the protest.

On its English-language Web site, IRNA said Ahmadinejad held "sincere talks" with the students and "during the three-hour meeting, representatives of various student groups expressed their views in a cordial atmosphere."

IRNA also reported on the protesting students, but gave the impression the students were not referring to Ahmadinejad as a dictator:

"In response to the students slogans of 'Down with Dictators', the president said, 'We have been standing up to dictatorship so that no one will dare to establish dictatorship in a millennium even in the name of freedom.'

"'Given the scars inflicted on the Iranian nation by agents of the U.S. and British dictatorship, no one will ever dare to initiate the rise of a dictator,' the president said."

Journalist Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.

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