MIDTOWN EAST — Hundreds gathered outside the United Nations Wednesday to protest the policies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he spoke before the UN General Assembly across the street. The demonstrators were joined by a group of American politicians, including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich.
The speakers condemned Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime, accusing them of supporting terrorism, violating human rights and recklessly pursuing the development of nuclear weapons despite international opposition.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Ahmadinejad "the most dangerous single leader on the planet today and a genuine and direct threat to the United States."
Many in the crowd were supporters of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK party, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently removed from an official list of terrorist organizations. The group's leader and founder, Maryam Rajavi, spoke to the crowd via satellite in Farsi.
Former ambassadors to the United Nations John Bolton and Bill Richardson called for continued support of Iranian political refugees and urged continued opposition to the regime in power.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge directed his remarks at Ahmadinejad, telling the ruler to "abdicate. Leave town. Leave Tehran. Leave Iran's future up to the people of Iran."
Protester Angela Mostashari, 52, a member of California Society for Democracy in Iran, said she was glad to see diverse political groups gathered in solidarity against Ahmadinejad.
"Iranian people and the world, they all have the same goal: peace and democracy. Our enemy is the Islamic fundamentalist regimes' ideology, which wants to take everybody back to 2,000 years ago," she said.
Mostashari said she tried returning to her native Iran in 1982.
"But I found too much oppression for women. Too much oppression of young people," she explained. "I went for one year and I could not live there because I like to speak freely. I was dying spiritually."
Protestor Ali S. said he had come looking for former dissident friends in the crowd. The 61-year-old had escaped Iran in the 1980s, when he said many of his friends were being killed for their political beliefs. He dismissed some of the speakers' words of commitment to Iranian democracy, calling them "opportunists."
Al Tahabi, 52, a former political prisoner, agreed, saying that he wanted to see more direct support of human rights in Iran.
"The only thing they care about is nuclear weapons," Tahabi said of American politicians.