Third day of anti-government protests hits Iran

Third day of anti-government protests hits Iran
Thousands of Iranians took to the streets in anti-government rallies on Friday, in what is thought to be the biggest show of public defiance since 2009.
3 min read
30 December, 2017
Anti-government protests in Iran entered their third day on Saturday. [Getty]

Anti-government protests in Iran entered their third day on Saturday as the regime warned against further "illegal gatherings".

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets in anti-government rallies on Friday, in what is thought to be the biggest show of public defiance since 2009.

The protests came a day after demonstrations against rising food prices and inflation began in second city Mashhad, with authorities arresting 52 protesters over the unrest.

On Saturday there was chaos around the University of Tehran as several hundred people scuffled with police and shouted slogans against the regime for several hours, bringing traffic to a standstill. 

But the regime also put on a show of strength, with hundreds of counter-demonstrators seizing control of the university entrance in Tehran, chanting "death to the seditionists".

Videos shared by social media users outside Iran claimed to show thousands marching peacefully in several cities including Khorramabad, Zanjan and Ahvaz, with chants of "death to the dictator".

But a swirl of wild rumours online, combined with travel restrictions and a near-total media blackout from official agencies, made it difficult to verify footage.

Telecoms minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi accused one popular Telegram channel of encouraging the "use of Molotov cocktails, armed uprising, and social unrest".  

Earlier in the day tens of thousands of Iranian regime supporters marched in cities across the country on Saturday in a show of support for the government after two days of protests.

"We urge all those who receive these calls to protest not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens," warned Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli. 

'A new plot'

The protests began in the second city of Mashhad on Thursday as an attack on high living costs but quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole.

There were even chants in favour of the monarchy toppled by the Islamic revolution of 1979, while others criticised the regime for supporting the Palestinians and other regional movements rather than focusing on problems at home.

State news channel IRINN said it had been banned from covering the protests that spread to towns and cities including Qom and Kermanshah. 

"The enemy wants once again to create a new plot and use social media and economic issues to foment a new sedition," Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, a prominent cleric, told a crowd in Tehran, according to the conservative Fars news agency.

Other officials also pointed the blame outside Iran. 

"Although people have a right to protest, protesters must know how they are being directed," Massoumeh Ebtekar, vice president in charge of women's affairs, wrote on Twitter. 

She posted images from Twitter accounts based in the United States and Saudi Arabia, voicing support for the Mashhad protests. 

Public anger

Nonetheless, officials warned against dismissing the public anger seen in recent days.

"The country is facing serious challenges with unemployment, high prices, corruption, lack of water, social gap, unbalanced distribution of budget," wrote Hesamoddin Ashena, cultural adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, on Twitter.

"People have the right for their voice to be heard."

There has been particular anger at welfare cuts and fuel price increases in the latest budget announced earlier this month.

Since the 2009 protests were ruthlessly put down by the Revolutionary Guards, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of pressing for change from the streets. 

Low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, however, often on a sector-by-sector basis as bus drivers or factory workers protest against unpaid wages or poor working conditions.

Since taking power in 2013, Rouhani has sought to clean up the banking sector and kick-start the economy, but many say progress has been too slow. 

Although conservatives have fiercely criticised Rouhani for the country's economic failings, they were already moving on Saturday to distinguish economic protests from wider attacks on the regime.