Some 4,000 people are taking part in a pro-government rally in Tehran Saturday after a series of protests against government corruption and the Islamic Republic's ailing economy swept across Iran, including in the capital.
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One pro-government demonstrator, 27-year-old Ali Ahmadi, blamed the U.S for all of Iran's economic problems. "They always say that we are supporting Iranian people, but who should pay the costs?" Ahmadi told the Associated Press.
The economic protests began Thursday, sparked by social media posts and a surge in prices of basic food supplies, like eggs and poultry. Thousands went into the streets in several cities in Iran, including Tehran and Mashhad, the country's second-largest city and a holy site for Shi’ite pilgrims.
On Saturday, Iranian news agency Fars reported that dozens of demonstrators were chanting anti-government slogans outside the University of Tehran, a claim corroborated by videos posted online by the participants.
"These gatherings are illegal, and we are asking people not to take part," said Interior Minister Rahman Fasli on Saturday.
Otherwise there could be "problematic consequences," he said, adding that his ministry would consider any requests for peaceful assembly submitted through proper channels, according to the Isna news agency.
Eyewitnesses say that special police units have been stationed throughout Tehran, with a concentration near Tehran's university.
President Rohani has yet to issue a reaction the protests.
Early on Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted out his support for the spontaneous protests.
"Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime's corruption & its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad," he wrote. "Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests."
An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman shot back on Saturday, saying the U.S., which bans Iranians from entering, should not pretend that it cares about their plight now.
"The Iranian people will not pay any heed to these worthless and opportunistic remarks from the United States," said Bahram Ghassemi.