President Hassan Rohani addressed the current unrest in Iran for the first time Sunday, saying that people have the right to protest their government but that it should not end in violence. He also blasted U.S. President Donald Trump, saying "those who called Iranians terrorists have no business sympathizing with our nation"
Rouhani was quoted by Mehr news agency as telling his cabinet: "Iranians understand the sensitive situation of Iran and region and will act based on their national interests."
Meanwhile, police in Tehran fired water cannon on Sunday to try to disperse demonstrators gathering in Ferdowsi Square in the center of the capital, according to video footage posted on social media.
Now, people of #Tehran are protesting in South Karegar street while anti-riot police uses water cannon against them. Protests against corrupted Shia clerics and authorities of Islamic regime of Iran. #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/agoXErvAMU— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) December 31, 2017
#Basij militia & anti-riot unit of Police attacked protesters in #RevolutionSquare of #Tehran. Protests against corrupted Shia clerics and authorities of Islamic regime of Iran. #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/K5OYRt8bHe— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) December 31, 2017
Video posted online also showed a clash between protesters and police in the city of Khoramdareh in Zanjan province in the country's northwest. There were also reports of protests in Sanandaj and Kermanshah cities in western Iran.
Reuters was unable immediately to verify the footage.
Iran warned of a tough crackdown on Sunday against demonstrators who pose one of the most audacious challenges to its clerical leaders since nationwide pro-reform unrest jolted the Islamist theocracy in 2009.
During these protests we are witness to anti-Khamenei slogan that we haven't heard for some years: Khamenei is a murderer, his rule is annulled pic.twitter.com/H9KAo8BQuw— ShiaPulse (@ShiaPulse) December 31, 2017
Tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since Thursday against the Islamic Republic's unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the region. They have also chanted slogans in support of political prisoners.
Demonstrators initially vented their anger over economic hardships and alleged corruption but they have also begun to call on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.
The government said it would temporarily restrict access to the Telegram and Instagram messaging apps, state television quoted an informed source as saying.
Official statement of Iran's Islamic regime media about blockage of #Telegram messaging service and #Instagram due to security reasons. Successfully people have bypassed blockage of #Telegram using special capability provided by #PavelDurov . #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/j3wbzZhjPU— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) December 31, 2017
Facebook itself has been banned in Iran since protests against the disputed 2009 re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, some in Iran access it and other banned websites using virtual private networks.
Meanwhile, authorities acknowledged the first fatalities in the protests in Doroud, a city some 325 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Tehran in Iran's western Lorestan province. Protesters had gathered for an unauthorized rally that lasted into the night Saturday, said Habibollah Khojastepour, the security deputy of Lorestan's governor. The two protesters were killed in clashes at the rally, he said.
"The gathering was to be ended peacefully, but due to the presence of the (agitators), unfortunately, this happened," Khojastepour said.
He did not offer a cause of death for the two protesters, but said "no bullets were shot from police and security forces at the people."
However, the reformist Etemad newspaper quoted Hamid Reza Kazemi, a lawmaker from Lorestan, confirming police fired shots in the clashes.
Video from earlier days posted on social media showed people chanting: "Mullahs, have some shame, leave the country alone."
'Long live Shah'
The 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 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic's first leader.
The protests are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Demonstrators denounce high prices, corruption and mismanagement. Unemployment stood at 12.4 percent in this fiscal year, up 1.4 points from the previous year. About 3.2 million Iranians are jobless, out of a total population of 80 million.
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.
His main achievement is a deal in 2015 with world powers that curbed Iran's nuclear program in return for a lifting of most international sanctions. But it is yet to bring the economic benefits the government promised.
"Those who damage public property, violate law and order and create unrest are responsible for their actions and should pay the price," state media quoted Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli as saying.
Ali Asghar Naserbakht, deputy governor of Tehran province, was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency that 200 protesters had been arrested on Saturday.
Videos posted on social media showed families gathering in front of Evin Prison in Tehran, asking for information about relatives arrested in recent days.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now