Iran celebrated the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution on Saturday amid nationwide anti-government protests and rising tensions with the West.

Thousands of Iranians marched through the main streets and squares decorated with flags, balloons and banners with revolutionary and religious slogans. The military displayed its Emad and Sejjil cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as its Shahed-136 and Mohajer drones.

Protesters began taking to the streets in September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the country’s moral police. Those demonstrations, initially focused on Iran’s mandatory veil, or hijab, soon morphed into calls for a new revolution.

In a speech at Azadi Square in the capital Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi called the protests a project by Iran’s enemies aimed at preventing the nation from continuing its achievements.

Raisi called the celebration «epic» and a display of «national integrity» while praising the country’s post-revolution achievements.

The comments led the crowd to chant «Death to America.»

Meanwhile, Telewebion, a web television service affiliated with Iranian state television, was briefly hacked during Raisi’s speech, Iranian media reported. The news website said the outage lasted 19 seconds.

«Edalate Ali» or «Ali’s Justice,» the hacker group in a 44-second video posted on Twitter invited people to take part in nationwide protests next week and urged Iranians to withdraw their money from their banks.

Chants including «Death to Khamenei» and «Death to the Islamic Republic.» it could be heard on the video and a masked man with a woman’s voice read the message. The group previously hacked into the notorious Evin Prison and other government facilities.

The anniversary comes after two years in which celebrations were largely confined to vehicles due to the pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 people in Iran, according to official figures, the highest nationwide death toll in the Middle East. .

Processions in Tehran on Saturday started from various points and converged on Azadi Square. Television showed crowds in many cities and towns and said hundreds of thousands of people participated.

The celebration was a show of power for the protesters. State television refers to the demonstrations as «foreign-backed riots» rather than local frustration over Amini’s death. Anger has also spread over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the US dollar and Tehran’s arming of Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war against Ukraine, which has also angered the West. Iran says it gave the drones to Russia before the war.

The Iranian government has not offered a total death toll or the number of people it has arrested. However, activists outside the country say at least 528 people have been killed and 19,600 people have been detained in the ensuing crackdown.

Last week, Iran’s state media said the supreme leader ordered an amnesty or reduced prison sentences for «tens of thousands» of people detained during the protests, acknowledging for the first time the scale of the crackdown.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s decree, part of an annual pardon the supreme leader makes ahead of the anniversary, came as authorities have yet to say how many people they detained at the demonstrations.

Referring to the amnesty, Raisi on Saturday urged those who were «deceived by the enemy» to «return to the nation» and vowed his administration would take pity on them too.

Crowds waved Iranian flags, chanted slogans and carried banners with traditional anti-Western slogans such as «Death to America» ​​and «Death to Israel.» Some burned US and Israeli flags, a ritual at pro-government rallies.

The Islamic Revolution began with widespread unrest in Iran by the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah, terminally ill and secretly suffering from cancer, fled Iran in January 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini then returned from exile and the government fell on February 11, 1979, after days of mass demonstrations and clashes between protesters and security forces. security.

Then, in April, Iranians voted to become an Islamic Republic, a Shiite theocracy with Khomeini as the country’s first supreme leader, with final say in all matters of state.

Months later, when the US allowed the shah into the country for cancer treatment in New York, anger erupted in Tehran, leading student militants to seize the US embassy in November 1979. The subsequent hostage crisis ignited decades of enmity.