The son of the deposed shah of Iran urged nations worldwide on Thursday to withdraw their ambassadors from Tehran to protest a relentless government crackdown on opposition demonstrators that resulted in at least eight deaths this week alone.
Reza Pahlavi, who has lived in exile since his father was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution, also appealed in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for a U.N. investigation into human rights violations during the unrest.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pahlavi equated the climate of the unrest in his homeland with the "revolutionary atmosphere" that preceded the fall of his father from the Peacock Throne 30 years ago, when the monarchy was replaced by an Islamic republic. The difference, he said, is that this time the people know what they want _ a secular democracy.
Pahlavi, like other members of the exiled opposition to Iran's clerical regime, is looking to play a role from afar as protesters brashly defy authorities in an increasingly tumultuous Iran.
In the letter Pahlavi urged the U.N. chief to press Iran to release those arrested and act to "halt the intolerable and increasingly dangerous march of events." The letter was given to the AP Thursday.
At least eight people died during protests Sunday, and hundreds were arrested in the worst unrest since the aftermath of June's disputed presidential election.
Pahlavi said that recalling ambassadors would be a "minimal but clear indication" by U.N. member states of their support for the rights of Iranian citizens and objections to violations of these rights by Iranian authorities.
"What you see in Iran is of major proportions," Pahlavi said by telephone. Based in the United States, the 49-year-old former crown prince is currently in Europe. His exact location was not divulged for security reasons.
"I can equate it with the same kind of climate that existed toward the end of 1978, 30 years ago, which led to a revolutionary atmosphere which I think has been reached right now in Iran," he said.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown Feb. 11, 1979. He fled Iran and wandered from country to country, ill with cancer and eventually died in Egypt in 1980. His son is based in Bethesda, Maryland, but often travels to France.
"The biggest difference is if yesterday the only focus was on bringing down the previous regime, while most people didn't quite know what it would end up like, this time people not only know what they don't want, which is the current regime, but they also know what they want," the shah's son said.
He said he believes the great majority want a secular democratic system to replace the clerical regime.
Pahlavi, like other exiled Iranian opposition figures, insists that the protest movement is not focused exclusively on leading figure Mir Hossein Mousavi or another top figure, Mahdi Karroubi.
Exiled groups, who themselves are unlikely to ever join forces, say they are in constant contact with well-placed sources inside Iran.
The head of the People's Mujahedeen Organization, Maryam Rajavi, said her group could rally behind Mousavi "despite his past" but only "if he accepts distancing himself from the religious dictatorship." The Mujahedeen's Iraq-based army has been disarmed by U.S. soldiers. The group remains on the U.S. terrorist list.
"Change is under way in Iran. It will not stop until the regime has come to an end," Rajavi said by telephone.
The first president of the post-revolution Islamic Republic, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, also living in France, is less optimistic.
"From a stand point of legitimacy, it (the regime) is over .... But it has three means that are interwoven in order to make this regime last: oil revenues, the forces of repression, and fear."
For Pahlavi, who calls for civil disobedience, the current strife is a "culminating moment."
He contended that, unlike the bloodbath that accompanied the fall of his father, a peaceful transition is possible with even some of the security apparatus "part of the solution."
He claimed some members of the security apparatus have on occasion shown restraint toward demonstrators and what he called cooperation by refusing to follow orders to move in. Foreign journalists in Tehran were restricted from covering protests, and news media abroad have relied in part on video and reports from Iranian citizens.
Now, he said, they need an "exit strategy" so they can refuse to cooperate with the regime and even join with those seeking change.
It is not known how much weight various exiled opposition forces have inside Iran and, in the case of Pahlavi, how many people support the idea of a return to monarchy. However, Pahlavi says that is not his goal.
"This is not about me. I'm not here to advocate anything but ... freedom and democracy for the Iranian people at first and I've determined this as my unique mission in life."
Still, he acknowledged that "I carry on my shoulders the historic weight of an institution that I may potentially represent."
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.