Pro-government rallies in several Iranian cities drew thousands of marchers on Wednesday, following six days of rare unrest that took the country’s leaders off guard, Reuters reports.
State television broadcast live pictures of rallies in Kermanshah, Ilam, and Gorgan, where marchers waved Iranian flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The boldest challenge to Iran’s established order in almost a decade had continued into Tuesday night, with postings and video footage on social media showing riot police deployed in force in several cities. Hours earlier, Khamenei accused Iran’s foes of fomenting the unrest.
On Wednesday, marchers voiced their support for Khamenei, chanting, “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader” and “We will not leave our leader alone”. The protests, which began over economic hardships, have taken on a rare political dimension, with a growing number of young people calling on Khamenei to step down. They are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The English-language broadcaster Press TV broadcast Wednesday’s pro-government rallies live, saying they were to “protest the violence that has taken place over the last few nights in cities.” Demonstrators waved Iranians flags and signs supporting Iran’s clerically overseen government. According to state TV, the demonstrations took place in at least 10 cities, including Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, the Kurdish town of Kermanshah in the country’s west and Qom, the religious capital of Shi’ite Islam in Iran.
“The seditionist rioters should be executed,” marchers chanted on Wednesday, while posters they carried said hostile “hidden hands” guided from the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom should be cut off.
The rallies come after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday blamed days of protests across the country on meddling by “enemies of Iran.”
“Look at the recent days’ incidents. All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have utilized various means, including money, weapons, politics and (the) intelligence apparatus, to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic, and the Islamic Revolution,” Khamenei said.
Khamenei avoided identifying any foreign countries, although he promised to elaborate in the coming days. Undoubtedly high on his list is the United States, where President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for the protests for several days.
At least 21 people have been killed during the unrest, including two members of the security forces. More than 450 protesters have been arrested in the capital Tehran in recent days, and hundreds of others were detained around the country, according to officials. A judicial official said some could face the death penalty. In an attempt to control the flow of information and calls for anti-government gatherings, Tehran authorities have restricted access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram, owned by Facebook Inc. High prices, alleged corruption, and mismanagement are fuelling the anger.
President Hassan Rouhani championed a deal struck with world powers in 2015 to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.While President Hassan Rouhani initially offered conciliatory words, saying the protesters had legitimate grievances over the state of the economy, the government’s stance has hardened in recent days.
The head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court warned that protesters could face the death penalty if convicted of moharebeh, waging war against God, while state television said those arrested after the first 48 hours of demonstrations would be treated more severely. Around 1,000 people have been arrested so far, authorities said.