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By The Los Angeles Times
Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 10:00 p.m.
 

TEHRAN — Tens of thousands of protesters chanting “Death to America!” marched on Monday outside the former U.S. Embassy in Iran's capital in a rally highlighting hard-liners' wariness about possible rapprochement with the Islamic Republic's archenemy.

The turnout was the largest in years at an annual event marking the anniversary of the Nov. 4, 1979, takeover of the embassy and the seizure of American hostages. Iran's official media said millions participated in similar gatherings across the country.

The marchers set ablaze U.S. flags and effigies of President Obama, who was depicted in posters as a sinner in hell. A flatbed truck carried a giant pair of boots symbolically stomping on a U.S. flag.

Recent revelations that the National Security Agency had eavesdropped on the private calls of world leaders provided fodder for marchers outside the former embassy, dubbed a “nest of spies” when seized more than three decades ago.

“We knew 34 years ago that the U.S. Embassy was a ‘den of espionage,' ” said Hossian, 56, who declined to give his last name. “Now all Europe has realized that we were right. U.S. embassies across the world are dens of espionage.”

The timing of the heavily choreographed demonstrations was widely viewed as a pointed message to President Hasan Rouhani as he pursues a controversial diplomatic outreach to Washington.

In September, Rouhani and Obama spoke via telephone on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, marking the highest-level contact between U.S. and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

A campaign among supporters of the president to tone down the “Death to America!” invective has elicited a backlash among conservatives who are opposed to reconciliation with the “Great Satan,” as the United States was labeled by late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, leader of the Iranian revolution.

Many marchers noted that Rouhani, before his landslide election in June against a field of hard-line candidates, had praised the “Death to America!” and “Death to USA!” chants that have long been a mainstay of revolutionary rhetoric and Friday prayer oratory.

The dispute about anti-America slogans has highlighted the deep divisions in Iranian society about a possible reconciliation with the West.

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