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Iran Protests Widen as Rouhani Calls for Calm

Iran Protests Widen as Rouhani Calls for Calm

Monday, 1 January, 2018 - 06:15
People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. (Reuters)

Protests in Iran raged for a fourth day on Sunday as the anti-government rallies spread to include small cities across the country, as shown through footage posted on social media.

Official state media meanwhile spoke of intermittent protests in Tehran and several other cities.

Videos circulated on social media showed demonstrators chanting “death to the dictator” and others condemning Iran’s regional behavior.

Residents in northwestern and southeastern Iran also took to the streets. These relatively poor regions do not receive as much attention from the government compared to the richer areas.

There were also reports of demonstrations in the western cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah as well as Chabahar in the southeast and Ilam and Izeh in the southwest.

In Chabahar, the predominantly Baluch population protested against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

In the predominantly Kurdish Kermanshah, activists posted videos of confrontations between security forces and protesters. Protesters shouted: “Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!”

Demonstrations turned violent in Shahin Shahr in central Iran. Videos showed protesters attacking the police, turning over a car and setting it on fire.

Two people have been killed and hundreds arrested since the protests erupted on Thursday.

The protests were the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The government said it would temporarily restrict access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram, owned by Facebook Inc, state television said. There were also reports that mobile access to the internet was being blocked in some areas.

“Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis, has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate. Not good!” US President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday.

The White House said in a statement later on Sunday that the Iranian people’s “voices deserve to be heard.”

“We encourage all parties to protect this fundamental right to peaceful expression and to avoid any actions that contribute to censorship,” the statement said.

An Iranian reached by telephone, who asked not to be named, said there was a heavy presence of police and security forces in the heart of the capital.

“I saw a few young men being arrested and put into police van. They don’t let anyone assemble,” he said.

A video showed a protester being arrested by police while a crowd shouted: “Police, go and arrest the thieves!” in the northwestern city of Khoy.

In the western town of Takestan, demonstrators set ablaze a Muslim seminary and the offices of the local Friday prayers leader, state broadcaster IRIB’s website said. Police dispersed protesters, arresting some, ILNA news agency said.

Demonstrators also shouted: “Reza Shah, bless your soul.” Such calls are evidence of a deep level of anger and break a taboo. The king ruled Iran from 1925 to 1941 and his Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown in a revolution in 1979 by Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s first leader.

High prices, corruption and mismanagement are fueling the anger. Youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent this year.

Economic indexes have improved under Rouhani’s government and the economy is no longer in dire straits. But growth has been too slow for an overwhelmingly youthful population, far more interested in jobs and change than in the Islamist idealism and anti-Shah republicanism of the 1979 revolution.

The demonstrations are particularly troublesome for Rouhani’s government because he was elected on a promise to guarantee rights to freedom of expression and assembly. He has yet to bring the economic benefits the government promised.

Ali Asghar Naserbakht, deputy governor of Tehran province, was quoted as saying by ILNA that 200 protesters had been arrested on Saturday.

Protesters also expressed anger over costly interventions in Syria and Iraq.

“Big protests in Iran,” Trump said in a tweet earlier on Sunday. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.”

Rouhani said the US president had no right to sympathize with Iranians since he “called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago”.

In his first comments on the protests, Rouhani said: “People are absolutely free to criticize the government and protest but their protests should be in such a way as to improve the situation in the country and their life.”

“Resolving the problems is not easy and would take time. The government and people should help each other to resolve the issues,” he was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as telling the cabinet.

According to Iranian media, markets in Tehran were closed on Sunday in areas where protesters took to the streets.

An Iranian lawmaker later said that the demonstrators’ message reached the parliament and government, reported ILNA.

“What the people are saying is true. The government must think about them,” he said.

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