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Iranians welcome president with protests

TEHRAN, Iran — Dozens of protesters hurled eggs and at least one shoe at President Hasan Rouhani as he returned to Tehran on Saturday after a groundbreaking phone call with President Barack Obama and other outreach to the West that has been greeted with widespread support in Iran.

The protest — coming even as supporters gathered to cheer the diplomatic outreach — quickly laid bare the political fissures in Iran over whether to engage with the United States and the challenges Rouhani and his aides face as they try to get international sanctions over the country’s nuclear program lifted.

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Rouhani was standing in his car, waving through the sunroof as he passed supporters at the airport Saturday, when opponents began to pelt the vehicle.

“Long live Rouhani, man of change,” the president’s backers shouted, as a small police contingent struggled to control the crowd of about 200 that seemed mostly to be of Rouhani supporters. The hard-liners responded by shouting, “Our people are awake and hate America.”

Security guards eventually pulled Rouhani back inside his car as it sped off, leaving supporters and opponents behind, some pushing and shoving one another. One protester was almost run over after he threw himself in front of Rouhani’s car.

Analysts expressed surprise that the protest was allowed, given the tight controls over public gatherings, and it raised the possibility that some in the country’s opaque political hierarchy were sending a message of displeasure over last week’s sudden turn of events.

The phone call with Obama came just days after Rouhani skipped a luncheon at the United Nations where the two leaders had been expected to shake hands. But a meeting Thursday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was described as constructive, U.S. officials said.

Many Iranians have appeared anxious for some outreach to the West as strict sanctions over the nuclear program have crippled the economy and increasingly isolated their country. The majority of those gathered at the airport Saturday seemed to back such outreach.

“Welcome, lord of peace,” read a placard held by one woman.

Down the road, protesters held placards saying “We will never be humiliated” and “Talks to U.S. will not solve any problem.”

As the president’s car drove off, one man shook his head in despair. “Why must everything always be destroyed?” he asked. “The whole world is looking at us, and now people are throwing eggs at our president.”

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