Iran holds pro-government rallies amid new protests

Pro-government rallies in several Iranian cities drew thousands of marchers on Wednesday, following six days of rare unrest that took the country's leaders off guard.
People chanting slogans in the Iranian capital Teheran as they marched in support of the government yesterday. The pro-government rallies have been held annually to mark the end of months of street protests, which followed former president Mahmoud Ah
People chanting slogans in the Iranian capital Teheran as they marched in support of the government yesterday. The pro-government rallies have been held annually to mark the end of months of street protests, which followed former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Annual rallies held in 1,200 places as third day of economic demonstrations continue

TEHERAN • Annual nationwide pro-government rallies were held in Iran yesterday to mark the end of unrest which shook the country in 2009, state media reported, while local news agencies and social media reports said a third day of protests had begun.

State television showed a rally in the capital Teheran and marchers carrying banners in support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Mashhad, Iran's second largest city.

Pro-government rallies were held in more than 1,200 cities and towns, state television said. The events have been held annually to mark the end of months of street protests, which followed former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009.

At the same time, social media postings said a third day of protests broke out in cities including Teheran, Shahr-e Kord and Kermanshah, where a video showed dozens of protesters booing after police announced that any gathering would be illegal.

Semi-official news agency Fars said up to 70 students had gathered in front of Teheran University and hurled rocks at police. A video showed them chanting "Death to the dictator", in an apparent reference to Mr Khamenei.

There has been discontent over unemployment, rising prices and alleged corruption. The protests have also turned political over issues including the Islamic republic's involvement in regional conflicts such as those in Syria and Iraq.

President Hassan Rouhani's leading achievement, a 2015 deal with world powers that curbed Iran's nuclear programme in return for a lifting of most global sanctions, has yet to bring the economic benefits the government says are coming.

Unemployment has risen and annual inflation is running at about 8 per cent, with shortages of some foods also leading to higher prices.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli issued a warning against promoting protests online. "We ask people not to take part in unlawful gatherings, if they plan a gathering they should apply (for a permit)," he told the Young Journalists Club news website.

Last Thursday, hundreds of people took to the streets in Mashhad to protest against high prices and shouted anti-government slogans. Police arrested 52 people, according to a judicial official.

The United States condemned the arrests, with President Donald Trump tweeting: "Iranian government should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!"

State media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi as saying in response yesterday: "The Iranian people see no value in the opportunistic claims by American officials and Mr Trump."

The largest wave of demonstrations since 2009 was seen yesterday as protests spread to Teheran and other cities.

State broadcaster IRIB had not covered the protests "after being asked by relevant bodies that the issue should not be reflected on state radio and television", its website quoted an official as saying. Most of those arrested in the last two days have been released, state television said, without giving details.

The Revolutionary Guards and their Basij militia said in a statement: "The Iranian nation... will not allow the country to be hurt."

Openly political protests are rare in Iran, where security services are omnipresent. However, demonstrations are often held by workers over lay-offs or non-payment of salaries.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'Iran holds pro-government rallies amid new protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe