Iran Blames Foreign Agents for Death of Two Protesters

LONDON (Reuters) -
People protest in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 30. (Reuters)

An Iranian official said two protesters previously reported killed in the city of Dorud on Saturday night during anti-government demonstrations were targeted by foreign agents and not the police.

“Violent clashes broke out in the illegal demonstration in Dorud on Saturday and unfortunately two people were killed,” Habibollah Khojastehpour, the deputy governor of Lorestan province, said in an interview on state media on Sunday.

“No shots were fired by the police and security forces. We have found evidence of enemies of the revolution, Takfiri groups and foreign agents in this clash,” he added. Takfiri is a term for Sunni terrorists, especially the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the government said on Sunday that protesters should pay a high price if they break the law.

Protesters have attacked banks and government buildings and burned a police motorcycle.

Ahmad Khatami, a hardline cleric who leads Friday prayers in the capital Tehran, said the protests were similar to those in 2009 over alleged electoral fraud.

He called for capital punishment for those chanting slogans against the values of the Islamic Republic.

The protests have included chants and slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the clerical leadership in power since the 1979 revolution.

Videos posted on social media showed people chanting: “Mullahs, have some shame, let go of the country.”

Protests defied the police and Revolutionary Guards who have used violence to crush previous unrest because they are motivated by economic grievances and have no clear leader.

They are also difficult for the government of President Hassan Rouhani because he was elected on a promise to guarantee rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Rouhani’s main 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 economic benefits the government promised.

Unemployment rose to 12.4 percent this fiscal year, up 1.4 percentage points, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, with 3.2 million Iranians jobless.