Sunday 15 December 2019

Violent protests in Iran blamed on 'grotesque' US interference

A supporter of Iran’s main opposition outside the Iranian embassy in London. Photo: PA
A supporter of Iran’s main opposition outside the Iranian embassy in London. Photo: PA

Rachael Alexander New York

Iran's leaders have accused America of "grotesque" interference in its affairs in a searing letter to the UN.

It said the US leadership, in "numerous absurd tweets, had incited Iranians to engage in disruptive acts" which violated international law.

Twenty-one people died in six days of protests sparked by Iran's economic problems, which spanned several cities.

Last night, state media focused on pro-government rallies after a second night without reports of major protests.

The unrest was initially over price rises and corruption, but the focus quickly turned to the remote elite and particularly Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

They are the largest protests since the disputed 2009 presidential election.

Meanwhile, in Moscow yesterday it emerged that Russia considered a US proposal for an extraordinary meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the turmoil in the country as "harmful and destructive", RIA news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said earlier this week the US was seeking emergency sessions on Iran at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Iran's army chief declared yesterday that police had already quelled anti-government unrest that has killed 21 people but that his troops were ready to intervene if needed, as Tehran staged more pro-government rallies.

The protests, which seem spontaneous and without a unifying leader, erupted a week ago in Iran's second city of Mashhad over economic hardships - mostly high youth unemployment, costly living standards and alleged corruption.

"Although this blind sedition was so small that a portion of the police force was able to nip it in the bud, you can rest assured that your comrades in the Islamic Republic's army would be ready to confront the dupes of the Great Satan (United States)," Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi was quoted in official media as saying.

Iran's vastness as well as restrictions on independent media make it hard to determine the breadth and depth of the unrest.

Semi-official labour news agency ILNA said the government yesterday lifted restrictions on Instagram, one of the social media tools used to mobilise protesters. But access to a more widely used messaging app, Telegram, remained blocked, suggesting authorities remained uneasy about protest threats.

In the latest protests, which generally occur after nightfall, social media video showed demonstrators in Khorramabad in south-western Iran throwing stones at riot police, who were retreating.

In other social media footage, hundreds poured into streets of the north-western city of Orumiyeh near the Turkish border, chanting anti-government slogans.

None of the videos could be authenticated by Reuters.

The student news agency ISNA quoted Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli as saying that "at most 42,000 people attended the protests, which is not much" in a nation of 80 million people. On Wednesday, the commander of the elite ­Revolutionary Guards, Major General ­Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the number of "troublemakers" did not exceed 15,000 nationwide.

As unrest spread across Iran, mainly in smaller cities and towns, protesters said they were tired of official anti-Western rhetoric and it was time for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the government of President Hassan Rouhani to quit.

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