JEDDAH: Protests in Iran are a continuation of popular discontent among citizens, a regional expert told Arab News on Sunday, as a policeman was shot dead amid unrest at rising oil prices.
Maj. Iraj Javaheri died of his wounds a day after a confrontation with protesters in the western city of Kermanshah on Saturday, provincial Police Chief Ali Akbar Javidan said.
President Hassan Rouhani defended the controversial hike in gasoline prices during Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, arguing the alternatives were less favorable.
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backed the sharp gasoline price rises and blamed the protests on Iran’s opponents and an act of “sabotage” by foreign foes.
But Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, an expert in Iranian affairs, said that Rouhani’s remarks “may be read by protesters as a sign of weakness from the government and thus lead to raising the ceiling of popular demands, especially as most of the slogans chanted by the demonstrators hit Khamenei personally and the regime of the Islamic Republic, burning images of Khamenei and attacking the headquarters of the Basij forces.
“The coming days remain important, especially if the protests continue until Friday,” he said. “The protests are expected to widen and increase in frequency.”
Access to the internet has been restricted since the demonstrations broke out.
Netblocks, an internet monitoring website, said the country was in the grip of a shutdown.
“Confirmed: Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown; realtime network data show connectivity at 7 percent of ordinary levels after 12 hours of progressive network disconnections,” it said on Twitter.
The internet curbs are apparently aimed at preventing protesters from communicating with each other and sharing videos on social media.
“We condemn the attempted shutdown of the internet. Let them speak!” US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Twitter on Sunday.
Al-Sulami also said it was clear that US sanctions on Tehran “have strained the Iranian budget, making it move toward the easiest option to absorb funds from inside Iran.”
He added: “All this was the spark that encouraged the Iranian people to start a new wave of demonstrations.”