Day 4 of Unrest

Iranian Protests Continue: President Rohani Blasts Trump as Violence Spreads

Social media is rife with videos of arrests, police firing water cannons at protesters ■ Two people confirmed killed in Iran protests in southwest

A handout picture provided by the Iranian Presidency on December 31, 2017 shows Iran's President Hassan Rohani attending a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran.
HO/AFP

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"

To really understand the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

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.

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. 

>> Iran spends billions on proxy wars throughout the Mideast. Here's where its money is going <<

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.

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 Iranian regime has learned to fear protesters | Analysis <<

"The gathering was to be ended peacefully, but due to the presence of the (agitators), unfortunately, this happened," Khojastepour said.

People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in in this picture obtained from social media. REUTERS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
SOCIAL MEDIA/REUTERS

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. 

>>Israeli 'violators' to blame for Iran's anti-government protest, regime mouthpiece claims

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.