11 Dead in Iran protests, president blames 'interference' by foreign powers

Jan 02, 2018, 12:20 IST | IANS

At least 11 people have died in Iran during five days of anti-government street protests that President Hassan Rouhani blamed on interference by foreign powers, media reported on Tuesday

A handout picture provided by the Iranian Presidency on December 31, 2017 shows Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attending a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran. Criticism is different to violence, warns Iran's Rouhani. Pic/AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian Presidency on December 31, 2017 shows Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attending a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran. Criticism is different to violence, warns Iran's Rouhani. Pic/AFP

At least 11 people have died in Iran during five days of anti-government street protests that President Hassan Rouhani blamed on interference by foreign powers, media reported on Tuesday. A policeman was killed in a shootout at one of the protests in the city of Nayaf Abad, in Isfahan province, the local Tasnim news agency reported, bringing the death toll so far to 11. Three other officers were wounded by gunfire from one of the protesters on the fifth consecutive day of demonstrations against President Rouhani's economic policy, the same source said. Another 300 people have been arrested at the various protests, which do not appear to be dying down despite Rouhani's calls for calm and the fact that the authorities have cut off public access to the social networks to try and prevent new demonstrations.

Iranian law punishes any demonstrations considered to be "contrary to the management of the country and its political institutions and to domestic and foreign policy." In addition to shouting slogans against Iran, Rouhani and the country's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, the protesters have also set fire to trash containers and have broken the windows of some bank branches. Meanwhile, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry reported on Monday that its agents have identified and arrested several key figures behind the recent disturbances at anti-government protest demonstrations over the past five days. The ministry added that other suspects are being sought and will soon be arrested and treated severely. Rouhani said Iran's enemies sought to incite Iranians to protest and had been outspoken in their desire to take revenge on Tehran for signing the 2015 nuclear agreement and its involvement in the Syrian conflict, in which Iran has backed forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

"To deal with Iran's success in various fields, the enemies have outspokenly said that they would shift the problem to Tehran, which is their own message and has nothing to do with our analysis," Rouhani said in statements published by the official IRNA news agency. Speaking to a group of parliamentarians, Rouhani said his government has had many successes, such as the agreement to end Iran's nuclear weapons program reached in 2015 with six major world powers, and its role in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

The Iranian Parliament on Monday accused Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia of inciting disturbances within the demonstrations, according to a statement by parliamentary spokesperson Seyyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini to the semi-official ISNA news agency. The parliament did recognize that the Iranian people's confidence in their government had deteriorated due to increased costs of living, its economic policy and cases of corruption. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the accusation, according to a statement from his office, saying "It's not only false. It's laughable". The head of the Israeli government praised the Iranian demonstrators and their demands for freedom and justice.

Demonstrations against rising prices and corruption began Thursday in the city of Mashhad, then spread to other cities, and Iranian state TV reported Monday that more than 200 people had been arrested and an unspecified number injured. Lawmaker Hedayat Allah Khademi told the semi-official ILNA news agency early Monday that two people were killed overnight in the southern city of Izeh.

It remained unclear if those deaths were included among the 11 dead cited by state television. Khademi said it was still unknown whether the shootings of those two people were at the hands of protesters or police. The lawmaker said several injuries and arrests occurred in Izeh, but he did not specify the number of detainees. Since Sunday, authorities have blocked access to certain social media networks that have been used to organize protests.

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