Iran warns protesters will ‘pay the price’ as unrest turns deadly
Iran warns protesters will ‘pay the price’ as unrest turns deadly
Videos on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass protests in 2009.
They showed demonstrations in Mashhad, Isfahan and many smaller cities but travel restrictions and limited coverage by official media made it difficult to confirm reports.
State media began to show footage of the protests on Sunday, focusing on attacks by young men against banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag.
“Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price,” Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.
“The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted,” he added.
Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in the small western town of Dorud late on Saturday but denied security forces were responsible.
US President Donald Trump weighed in, saying “oppressive regimes cannot endure forever.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders warned: “The days of America looking the other way ... are over.”
Iranian authorities have sought to distinguish anti-regime protesters from what they see as legitimate economic grievances.
“Do not get excited,” parliament director for international affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a tweet directed at Trump.
“Sedition, unrest and chaos are different from gatherings and peaceful protests to pursue people’s livelihoods,” he said.
The protests began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and against the Islamic system as a whole, with slogans such as “Death to the dictator.”
But there have been reminders of the continued support for the regime among conservative sections of society, with pro-regime students holding another day of demonstrations at the University of Tehran on Sunday.
They had outnumbered protesters at the university the day before, although online videos showed significant protests around downtown parts of the capital later in the evening.
The total number of arrests was unclear but an official in Arak, around 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Tehran, said 80 people had been detained overnight.
Police have so far taken a relatively soft approach to the unrest and there has been no sign that the Revolutionary Guards have yet been deployed.
Iranian authorities have blamed external forces for fomenting the protests, saying the majority of social media reports were emanating from regional rival Saudi Arabia or exile groups based in Europe.
Internet was temporarily cut on mobile phones on Saturday night but was restored not long after.
President Hassan Rouhani has so far not made any statement since the protests started.
He came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but anger over high living costs and a 12-percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.
Unemployment is particularly high among young people, who have grown up in a less restrictive environment and are generally considered less deferential to authority.
“Rouhani has run an austerity budget since 2013 with the idea that it’s a tough but necessary pill to swallow to manage inflation and currency problems and try to improve Iran’s attractiveness for investment,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.
“But choosing years of austerity immediately after a very tough period of sanctions is bound to test people’s patience,” he told AFP.
Since the ruthless repression of the 2009 protests against a disputed presidential election that gave hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of securing change from the streets.
But low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, with bus drivers, teachers and factory workers protesting against unpaid wages and poor conditions.
Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria
- The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria
- Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
JERUSALEM: Israel declined to comment on Tuesday on a weekend air strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria after its US ally implicated it in the attack.
The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.
Fighters of Iraq’s Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, mainly composed of Iran-trained Shiite militia, have played a major role in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Daesh group in Syria as well as Iraq.
But their presence has sparked confrontations with both Washington, which has been supporting a Kurdish-led alliance that controls other parts of eastern Syria, and Israel, which fears Iranian-inspired attacks on its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.
Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
But US officials denied any involvement and instead pointed the finger at Israel.
“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” one US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military declined to be drawn on the US claims. “We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokeswoman said.
The military has carried out previous strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, but most have been significantly closer to Israel or the Israeli-occupied Golan.
Last month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.
Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired toward its forces in the occupied Golan by Iran from Syria.
Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria.”
“We will take action — and are already taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria,” the prime minister said.
“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”
Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Iran has been a close ally of the Syrian regime for some four decades and, with Russia, has been a key supporter in the civil war that broke out in 2011.