Demonstrations are in their fifth day. Underpinned by economic difficulties, youth unemployment, rising prices, but also criticism of the government and corruption of the regime. Rouhani: Yes to criticism, no to violence. Revolutionary Guards say the protests are supported from abroad. Reactions in the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia. Russia: An internal affair.
Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) - An Iranian policeman was killed and three others were injured in clashes between law enforcement officials and anti-government demonstrators in the city of Najafabad yesterday. These are the latest victims in a series of violent protests linked to demonstrations that have spread to several cities in the country over the past five days, starting from Mashad in the north-east: Kermanshah, Shahinshahr, Takestan, Zanjan, Toyeserkan, Nahavand, Tehran .
In total, 13 people have been killed so far: two demonstrators were killed on December 30; eight others in various cities the day after. A father and son died in Doroud: their car was hit by a fire truck stolen by demonstrators.
The demonstrations continue despite the blockade operated by the authorities on mobile phones and on social networks such as Telegram and Instagram, which the demonstrators use to communicate. In Tehran, the police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of people gathered in the university district who were shouting anti-government slogans. At least 200 people have been arrested in the capital; another 200 in other cities.
According to some experts, the riots are caused by the austerity measures launched by President Hassan Rouhani, which include reducing social aid and rising food and fuel prices.
The fragmentary news coming from the protesters' social media talks of thousands of people asking for solutions to youth unemployment, but also the end of the domination of the ayatollahs and their privileges, as well as of Iranian support for wars in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Yemen ).
State media instead speak of groups of a few hundred, stirred up by foreign forces, who abandon themselves to violence and destruction against municipal buildings, police cars, banks.
These protests are the first after the much larger ones in 2009, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected, accused of fraud. Then the Green Wave protests were bloodily suppressed.
In a statement released yesterday, Rouhani called the demonstrators a "small minority that ... insults the sacred and revolutionary values". He also promised to prosecute those who chose violence, but he had also previously stated that Iran must provide the population with "a space" for it to express its "concerns". In any case, he stressed, "criticizing is totally different from using violence".
In a meeting with the government two days ago, he said: "We are a free nation based on the Constitution and on the rights of citizens; people are totally free to express their criticisms and even to protest," but he also recalled that the criticisms and protests must lead to an improvement in the conditions of the country and the life of the people.
The Revolutionary Guards and the Basej militias, the conservative forces that dominate the economy and the security forces of the country, accuse foreign forces of being behind the demonstrations. The state media reported the statements of the secretary of the Supreme Security Council, who claimed "the hashtags and messages [on social media] about the Iranian situation come from the United States, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia".
Rouhani, elected for a second term in May 2017, has helped the country to emerge from isolation, reaching the nuclear agreement that led to the fall of many international sanctions. The Iranians hoped that this would lead to an improvement in the economic situation, but the fruits of the agreement are slow to be felt also because the United States continues to maintain a ban on the use of the dollar in financial transactions with Iran, slowing down the signing of many contracts.
The anti-government demonstrations have been welcomed by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
US President Donald Trump said in a tweet on December 31 that the demonstrations show Iran's "failure at every level" and that its people "are hungry for food and freedom. It's time to change ".
In Israel, the Minister for Regional Cooperation, Tzachi Hanegbi, declared that the Iranian demonstrators "dare to risk their lives in search of freedom" and asks the "civilized world" to support them.
There have been no official statements from Riyadh, but young Prince Mohammed bin Salman has long sought to reduce Tehran's influence over the Middle East, where Iran has reaped success in Iraq and Syria.
Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Minister, said that the riots are "an Iranian internal affair" and that "any external interference that destabilizes the situation is inadmissible".