31 Dec 2017

Iran protests continue for a third day despite warnings

4:12 pm on 31 December 2017

Anti-government protests have continued in Iran for a third day, with reports of demonstrations in many cities despite warnings from authorities.

People gather to protest over high cost of living in Tehran, Iran on December 30, 2017.

People gather to protest over high cost of living in Tehran, Iran on December 30, 2017. Photo: AFP

At Tehran University, protesters called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and there were clashes with police.

Demonstrators ignored the interior minister's warning that citizens should avoid "illegal gatherings".

Two demonstrators are reported dead in Dorud after sustaining gunshot wounds shown in a video posted on social media.

Videos filmed elsewhere in the country show protesters setting fire to a police vehicles and there are reports of attacks on government buildings.

Meanwhile, thousands of pro-government demonstrators turned out for rallies.

These official rallies were organised in advance of the anti-government protests, to mark the eighth anniversary of the suppression of major street protests in 2009.

The current protests began in the north-east on Thursday over living standards and by Friday had spread to several major cities.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli urged people not to take part "as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens", but videos posted online suggest that protests were held on Saturday in at least nine cities across the country.

The Iranian authorities are blaming anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers for the outbreak of protests. The communications minister has also urged Telegram, a popular mobile messaging app in Iran, to stop "promoting violence".

In the US, the Trump administration warned Iran overnight that the world was watching its response. Iran's foreign ministry called the comments "opportunistic and deceitful".

Although small, the anti-government protests on Saturday took on a much greater importance than the government-sponsored rallies.

It's not every day that there are thousands of people voicing opposition to the government.

As night fell, reports were still coming of protests in many cities. There have been clashes with the police in some places.

The common factor in all of them has been protesters' demand for an end to clerical rule in Iran.

Widespread discontent is not limited to complaints about rising prices or widespread unemployment.

It has been an eye-opening three days for the government, which has been careful not to provoke the protesters too much.

How did the anti-government demonstrations start?

The protests started in the north-eastern city of Mashhad - the country's second most-populous - on Thursday.

People there took to the streets to express anger at the government at the high cost of living and vented their fury against President Hassan Rouhani. Fifty-two people were arrested.

The protests spread to at least half a dozen cities on Friday. In some cities police in riot gear and on motorbikes clashed with demonstrators.

It is the biggest display of public dissent since huge pro-reform rallies in 2009.

Overall, the numbers said to be taking part range from less than 100 in some places to thousands in others - but demonstrations do not appear to be taking place on a massive scale. Information about them has mostly emerged through social media.

A video that spread among Persian-language Twitter users earlier on Saturday showed students at Tehran University calling for Mr Khamenei to step down.

The hardline Fars news agency tweeted that "opportunists" were trying to raise unrest in front of the university. However AFP news agency reported that pro-regime counter-demonstrators appeared to outnumber them and chanted "death to the seditionists".

Many videos have emerged online showing protests said to have been held on Saturday in cities across Iran, including Karaj, Arak, Zanjan, Khorramabad, Shiraz and Bandar Abbas.