Iran State Media: 12 Killed in Protests, Attacks on Security

DUBAI (Reuters) -
People attend a protest in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 30. (Reuters)

At least 12 people have been killed in the ongoing protests in Iran, and armed protesters have tried to take over police stations and military bases, state media reported Monday.

The protests began Thursday in Mashhad over economic issues and have since expanded to several cities. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

The report said 10 were killed during clashes Sunday night, without elaborating. Two demonstrators were killed during a protest in western Iran late Saturday.

“Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces,” state media reported.

Earlier Monday, the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Hedayatollah Khademi, a representative for the town of Izeh, as saying two people died there Sunday night.

He said the cause of death wasn’t immediately known. Many in Izeh, some 280 miles southwest of Tehran, have hunting rifles in their homes.

The protests in Iran, which represent the boldest challenge to its leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009, and calls for more demonstrations across the country on Monday raised the possibility of prolonged instability.

Unsigned statements posted on social media urged Iranians to demonstrate again in the capital Tehran and 50 other urban centers.

Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power but frustrations have grown at home while the country is deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.

Those interventions are also fueling anger in the Islamic Republic. Iranians want their leaders to create jobs instead of engaging in costly proxy wars.

The unrest erupted in the second city, Mashhad, against price rises, but it swiftly spread and turned into political rallies.

Some called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and chanted against a government they described as thieves. Demonstrators are angry over corruption and economic hardship in a country where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.

Protests continued overnight even though President Hassan Rouhani appealed for calm. In remarks carried on state media, he said Iranians had the right to criticize authorities but also warned of a crackdown.

“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society,” Rouhani said. Hundreds of people have been arrested but security forces have largely shown restraint.

Iran’s leaders believe they can count on support from many of the generation that took part in the 1979 revolution because of their ideological commitment and the economic gains they have made under the government, analysts say.

Police in the center of Tehran fired water cannon on Sunday to try to disperse demonstrators, according to pictures on social media.

Demonstrations turned violent in Shahin Shahr in central Iran. Videos showed protesters attacking the police, turning over a car and setting it on fire.

There were also reports of demonstrations in the western cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah as well as Chabahar in the southeast and Ilam and Izeh in the southwest.

The protests were the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Videos showed people in central Tehran chanting: “Down with the dictator!” in an apparent reference to Khamenei.

Protesters in Khorramabad in western Iran shouted: “Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!”

The government said it would temporarily restrict access to social media apps, state media said. There were also reports that mobile access to the internet was being blocked in some areas.

“Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis, has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate. Not good!” President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday.

Rouhani said earlier the U.S. president had no right to sympathize with Iranians since he “called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago.”