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

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.


‘Braking’ boundaries: Palestinian women seek new chances

Updated 1 min 59 sec ago

‘Braking’ boundaries: Palestinian women seek new chances

  • Palestinian women are pushing boundaries in the traditionally conservative city of Hebron
  • ‘(Society) has changed a little. There have been some developments, but not enough’
HEBRON, Palestinian Territories: As the 30-ton truck weaves through the crowded Palestinian streets, groups of men stop and gawp at the diminutive figure of Dalia Al-Darawish in a purple headscarf seated behind the wheel.
Darawish is preparing for an exam to become one of only a handful of qualified female Palestinian truck drivers, a test the 26-year-old sees as about more than just driving.
“It is symbolic,” she said. “It shows we can do anything — that as a woman you can work, drive a trailer or whatever.”
The mother-of-two is among several Palestinian women pushing boundaries in the traditionally conservative city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, amid a growing assertiveness of women’s rights.
Darawish said she had faced criticism from both sexes as she trained, but the men were far more vocal.
“They are some who supported, a minority,” she said. “But then there are people shouting in the street, ‘No, why are you driving a trailer?!’”
“Whenever I made any mistake you would find men shouting, ‘It’s impossible (for you)’.”
At the driving center, she shakes slightly as her black-moustached examiner Issam Bedawi explains the test.
After briefly demonstrating her ability to detach and re-attach the trailer, the two clamber up into the carriage and drive off.
Recent months have seen protests in the West Bank after a 21-year-old woman was allegedly killed by her family members after posting a photo with her soon-to-be fiancé on Instagram.
The demonstrators are demanding more protection for women, but also a more prominent political movement for women’s rights.
Palestinian women still often give up their careers to care for children.
A World Bank study last year found that 58 percent of skilled women between 25 and 34 were unemployed, compared to 23 percent of men.
The general unemployment rate for women (44 percent) is double that of men, according to official Palestinian statistics.
Wafaa Al-Adhami had long dreamt of being an artist, but didn’t have the opportunity to study growing up.
But five years ago and with the kids older, she returned to her passion, studying hours of videos about artists on YouTube.
“Painting and art courses are expensive and I had no time,” she said. “So I loved educating myself.”
“Every artist has their own style, and I wanted to find mine,” she said.
From her living room table with an array of children passing through, she developed a specific layering technique for her work, pouring the paint onto the canvas before sculpting and manipulating it.
The result is a 3D texture that she says is unique among Palestinian artists.
Her inspiration ranges from Palestinian icons such as the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem to more Jackson Pollock-inspired surrealism.
A recent 40-work exhibition was a big hit.
Elsewhere in the city, 31-year-old Asia Amer has set up what she believes is Hebron’s first women-only restaurant.
The idea behind the Queen Restaurant, she said, is to give women a space to feel at home.
Those who normally wear the hijab can remove the headscarf if they wish.
“I felt that it was the right of women to have a place they can relax in — where there are no restrictions or people watching her,” she said.
“I am proof that Palestinian women don’t just stay at home to cook and look after the children.”
Back at the driving test center, Darawish pulls the trailer to a stop and waits nervously as Bedawi tallies up the score.
“I’m happy to say she passed,” he announces. “Everything I asked of her during the test she did fantastically.”
Darawish doesn’t even know if she will work as a truck driver, as right now she is still looking after her children.
But she said she wanted to help drive change in attitudes.
“(Society) has changed a little. There have been some developments, but not enough,” she said.
“If there had been big movement, men who see a woman driving a trailer would be happy or they wouldn’t say anything at all.”