Iran protesters attack religious school as reimposition of sanctions looms
Iranian protesters attacked a religious school in Karaj province near Tehran, the Fars news agency reported on Saturday, as sporadic protests simmered ahead of the reimposition of US sanctions.
Iranian authorities have barely mentioned days of protests in the major cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran, driven by concerns over water, the economy and wider anger at the political system.
During past unrest, conservative outlets have focused on attacks against sensitive symbols such as religious buildings as a way of tarnishing protesters.
"At 9:00 pm (1630 GMT on Friday) they attacked the school and tried to break the doors down and burn things," Fars quoted the head of the school in the town of Ishtehad, Hojatoleslam Hindiani, as saying, giving only his clerical rank and no first name.
"They were about 500 people and they chanted against the system but they were dispersed by the riot police and some have been arrested," Hindiani said.
Fars acknowledged protests have taken place in "five or six cities" since Tuesday over water shortages, rising prices and joblessness, with "about 1,000 or 2,000 people" taking part.
But it said these peaceful protests were taken over by people "who come into the crowd with political slogans such as 'Death to the dictator'".
It said this was part of a pre-planned plot by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia to exploit economic tensions inside Iran.
Because foreign media are barred from observing "unauthorised" protests, it has been impossible to verify any of these claims or the videos of protests spreading on social media.
With tensions high ahead of the return of US sanctions on Tuesday, the government of President Hassan Rouhani also faces opposition from conservatives and religious leaders, who have long disliked his outreach to the West and accuse him of governing only for the rich.
The conservative Qom News published a video of a protest in the holy city of Mashhad after Friday prayers, in which a cleric tells the crowd: "Most of your representatives don't care about people's problems.
"Most have two passports and their families are abroad. The judiciary should find these people and arrest them," the cleric says, to chants of "Allahu akbar" ("God is greater") from the crowd.
Former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has fallen out with the conservative establishment since leaving office in 2013, has tried to ride this wave of anger.
In a Wednesday Twitter post, he called on US President Donald Trump to release a list of "relatives of Iranian government officials that have green cards and bank accounts in the United States", if such a record exists.
So far, social media reports suggest the current protests are far from the scale of the unrest seen in December and January, when at least 25 people were killed in demonstrations that spread to dozens of towns and cities.
There were allegations at the time that they had been sparked by conservative opponents of Rouhani in Mashhad before quickly spiralling out of hand.
But all Iranians are concerned about the struggling economy, especially since the United States walked out of the nuclear deal in May and announced it would reimpose full sanctions in two stages.