Large crowds have gathered across Iran in a demonstration of loyalty to the government as opposition protests showed no signs of abating. Tehran meanwhile slammed Washington’s “interference” and “deceptive support” of the unrest.
The ongoing protests in Iran started as a rally against soaring food prices and unemployment, snowballing into the biggest anti-government movement in eight years. On Saturday, according to videos posted on social media, the protesters, who appear to be predominantly young and male, were seen jostling with riot police, throwing stones, burning fires, and hauling down a billboard of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In several clips, crowds are heard calling for the overthrow of the country’s supreme leader and also President Hassan Rouhani, as well as chanting “No to high prices!” Some Tweets and Facebook posts claimed that at least two demonstrators have been injured or shot dead by Revolutionary Guards in Daroud, a city in the central Lorestan province, but there has been no official confirmation by media or the authorities.
The government said without prior permission, all such gatherings are “illegal,” and have stated it has been orchestrated by “anti-revolutionary forces” based abroad.
“Police and security forces have tried to manage conditions. We have received reports of calls to gather, cyber and social media based, and such calls and any gatherings resulting therefor, are certainly illegal,” Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
State television said 1,200 pro-government counter-protests had been staged Saturday. Official media also reported that about 4,000 people gathered in central Tehran, many holding up national flags and portraits of the theocracy’s religious leader Khamenei.
A final resolution at the rallies, cited by the Fars news agency, called for “unity and integration” and urged “vigilance” against provocateurs.
The demonstrations were sparked by a seemingly perfect storm of circumstances. The anti-government rally was scheduled to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the 2009 election vote protests mid-week, while Friday and Saturday fell on the days of Ashura, a religious Islamic date and national holiday. But the protests were given immediate impetus by the recent hike of staple food prices that saw the cost of everyday items grow by up to 40 percent. The immediate economic demands and anti-corruption slogans coalesced with political chants at most rallies.
President Donald Trump has weighed in on the discontent, tweeting, “the good people of Iran want change” and “oppressive regimes cannot endure forever,” – quote from his speech on Iran to the United Nations in September.
The Iranian foreign ministry immediatelly slammed Trump’s remarks as an “opportunist and hypocritical” attempt to meddle in Iran’s internal affairs, with ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi calling the ongoing anti-government action “part of US’ hypocritical ploy,” as cited by IRNA.
Brushing off Trump’s accusations of an “oppressive regime,” Qasemi noted the huge turnout at the pro-government rallies, as well as the presidential election held this year, which proves that Iranians have strong faith in the country’s democratic institutions. Over 70 percent of Iranians took part in the May election which Rouhani Rouhani won by a landslide.
“The noble Iranian nation never pays heed to the opportunist and hypocritical mottos chanted by the US officials and their interfering allegations on domestic developments in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Qasemi said. “The vigilant attendance of people and their resistance against ill-wishers that US president Donald Trump stands on top will guarantee the country’s development.”
Seyed Mohammed Marandi, professor of politics at Tehran University, told RT that the West has seized on localized discontent to push for the collapse of the entire political system. “The counter protests were much larger, but these were not reflected in the Western media.”