Unauthorized, spontaneous protests engulfed Iran’s major cities for a third straight day on Saturday as what started out as demonstrations over rising prices seem to have taken a decidedly anti-government tone. Videos posted on social media show some demonstrators calling on the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down. Some of the protests turned violent and a report on social media said riot police killed two demonstrators in the western town of Dorud.
The demonstrations gained strength in Tehran for the first time and demonstrators faced off with riot police around the main university and there are reports of teargas being fired in several cities. There are also videos showing demonstrators setting fire to police vehicles and attacking government buildings, according to the BBC. Earlier Saturday, thousands took to the streets for big pro-government rallies but the anti-establishment protests were far more important. The BBC’s Kasra Naji explains:
Although small, the anti-government protests on Saturday took on a much greater importance than the government-sponsored rallies.
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.
As the day of protests continued President Donald Trump once again took to Twitter to send a thinly veiled message of support to the protesters after earlier warning the Iranian government against a crackdown on the protesters. “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most,” Trump tweeted.
The three days of demonstrations were the largest since the protests disputing election results took place in 2009. And experts say that this time it’s difficult to know what will happen. “This is more grass roots. It’s much more spontaneous, which makes it more unpredictable,” Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington, tells the Washington Post. Another Iran expert tells the Guardian that the protests “spread very quickly in a way that nobody had really anticipated.”
In a seeming recognition that many of these protests are being organized through social media, there are also reports of internet access being blocked in certain areas. The government called on messaging service Telegram to shut down a channel that it claimed was being used to encourage “hateful conduct.” The app, which has 40 million users in Iran, blocked the channel. “Be careful,” Telegram CEO Pavel Durov wrote on Twitter, “There are lines one shouldn’t cross.”
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