Street protests hit Iran for third straight day as pro-government rallies held

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An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on Saturday. (AFP)
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Openly political protests are rare in the Islamic Republic, where security services are omnipresent. (Photo courtesy: social media)
Updated 31 December 2017
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Street protests hit Iran for third straight day as pro-government rallies held

DUBAI: Anti-government protests broke out in Iran for the third day running on Saturday as separate state-sponsored rallies were staged to mark the end of unrest that shook the country in 2009, according to Iranian news agencies and state media.
State television showed a rally in the capital Tehran as well as marchers carrying banners in support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city where protests over prices turned political on Thursday.
State-sponsored mass rallies were scheduled in more than 1,200 cities and towns, state TV said — events held annually to commemorate the end of months of street protests that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election as president.
At the same time, social media postings said protests broke out for the third straight day in cities including Tehran and Kermanshah. One video showed dozens of protesters booing after police announced by loudspeaker that any gathering would be illegal. The footage could not be authenticated.
The semi-official news agency Fars said up to 70 students gathered in front of Tehran University and hurled rocks at police. A social media video showed them chanting “Death to the dictator,” an apparent reference to Khamenei.
Footage later showed riot police clubbing and arresting the protesters. ISNA news agency said a group of government supporters also gathered outside the university as police tried to disperse protesters. Authorities closed two nearby metro stations “until the end of the unrest,” ISNA said.
Another video appeared to show security forces arresting demonstrators in another part of Tehran, with protesters shouting “Let him go! Let him go!“
In a further video, which could not be verified, marchers in the western town of Dorud chanted, “Death to the dictator.”
Dozens of protesters gathered in the western city of Shahr-e Kord, ISNA said. Social media footage appeared to show a protester being helped by his comrades after being teargassed.

DISCONTENT
Openly political protests are rare in the Islamic Republic, where security services are omnipresent.
But there is considerable discontent over high unemployment, inflation and alleged graft. Some of the new protests have turned political over issues including Iran’s costly involvement in regional conflicts such as those in Syria and Iraq.
Joblessness has risen and annual inflation is running at about 8 percent, with shortages of some foods contributing to higher prices and hardship for many families.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli warned against attempts to promote protests via social media.
“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.
On Thursday, hundreds of people took to the streets in Mashhad, one of the holiest places in Shiite Islam, 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 govt 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: “The Iranian people see no value in the opportunistic claims by American officials and Mr. Trump.”
Friday witnessed the largest wave of demonstrations since 2009 as protests spread to Tehran 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 unnamed official as saying.

MOST DETAINEES FREED
Most of those arrested in the last two days had been released, state TV said, without giving details.
“Enemy websites and foreign media continue to try to exploit economic hardships and the legitimate demands of the people in this respect to launch illegal gatherings and possible unrest,” it said.
The elite Revolutionary Guards and its Basij militia, which spearheaded the security crackdown that crushed the protests of 2009, said in a statement carried by state media: “The Iranian nation ... will not allow the country to be hurt.”
Though purely political protests are seldom seen in Iran, demonstrations are often held by workers over lay-offs or non-payment of salaries and by people who hold deposits in non-regulated, bankrupt financial institutions.
President Hassan Rouhani’s leading achievement, a 2015 deal with world powers that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for a lifting of most international sanctions, has yet to bring the broad economic benefits the government says are coming.
Unemployment has risen to 12.4 percent this fiscal year, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, up 1.4 percentage points and leaving about 3.2 million Iranians jobless.


Assad regime ‘using Daesh to justify atrocities’

Updated 40 min 2 sec ago
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Assad regime ‘using Daesh to justify atrocities’

  • Syrian government claims Daesh fighters killed at least 25 regime troops in a surprise attack near the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen
  • Opposition leader says the regime forces’ fight against Daesh as a sham and said the terror group was a gun for hire

JEDDAH: Bashar Assad’s forces are using the threat of Daesh to justify brutal acts against civilians, Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi said.

His remarks on Thursday came as Daesh fighters killed at least 25 regime troops in a surprise attack near the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen, surrendered by the terror group six months ago.

At least 13 insurgents were killed in the raid, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Daesh was continuing its advance on the town from the Badia desert, observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The attack was the largest since the terror group was expelled from the town in October 2017, he added.

However, the opposition spokesman described the regime forces’ fight against Daesh as a sham and said the terror group was a gun for hire.

“As for those so-called 25 regime soldiers, the regime is abducting people, training them on how to pull the trigger and sending them to die.

“They are being used to send a message that the regime is still fighting terrorism,” Al-Aridi told Arab News.

He claimed that Mayadeen “still holds people who could be classified as Daesh, and the regime exploits that any time it wants.”

Regime airstrikes and artillery fire also pounded Daesh-occupied areas in the south of Damascus on Thursday. Warplanes targeted “the dens of terrorists from Al-Nusra Front and Daesh in Hajjar Al-Aswad,” a southern district of the capital, pro-Assad media said.

Iraq’s air force also carried out “deadly” airstrikes on Daesh positions inside Syria, Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s office said.

Meanwhile, the US warned that the Assad regime could still carry out limited chemical attacks despite last week’s coalition strikes. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the US military’s Joint Staff, said the regime retained a “residual” chemical capability at sites across the country.

Separately, the regime took control of Dumayr, a town northeast of Damascus, after rebels evacuated to north Syria.