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Iranian Hardliners Hold Rallies a Day After Economy Protests

People gather to protest in Tehran on Dec. 30, 2017 Anadolu Agency Getty Images

Iranian hardliners supporting the Islamic Republic staged rallies across the country Saturday, a day after the arrests of protesters complaining about corruption and the government’s handling of the economy.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency posted a video of state-organized demonstrations in the city of Mashhad, where anti-state

Iranian hardliners supporting the Islamic Republic staged rallies across the country Saturday, a day after the arrests of protesters complaining about corruption and the government’s handling of the economy.

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The semi-official Tasnim news agency posted a video of state-organized demonstrations in the city of Mashhad, where anti-state protests erupted Thursday and led to the arrest of more than 50 people. In a Twitter post on Friday night, U.S. President Donald Trump said the Tehran government “should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!”

The Foreign Ministry in Tehran dismissed the remarks. “The Iranian people place no value or credibility in the opportunistic claims of U.S. officials or of Mr. Trump himself,” Bahram Ghassemi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Protests that started over the economy and rising food prices under the government of President Hassan Rouhani broadened to include frustration with the political system.

By the early evening Saturday, there were still about 50 protesters gathered outside the City Theatre in downtown Tehran, chanting and raising their arms in an area already swarming with commuters and onlookers. At least a dozen black police pickup trucks and vans surrounded the area.

System Protests

“They’re chanting slogans against the system,” an onlooker, who didn’t want to give his name because of the sensitivity of the issue, said from his vantage point in the shuttered entrance of a nearby metro station.

Other anti-government protests took place Friday in Kermanshah, Rasht, Sari, Qazvin, Hamadan and the holy city of Qom, according to Fars news agency, which is seen as aligned with hardliners and Iran’s armed forces. It also said as many as 70 people gathered near Enghelab Square and the gates of Tehran University Saturday afternoon.

“Unlike the other demonstrations in different cities, which concerned livelihoods and protests against high prices, today’s protest had a political smell and hue,” Fars reported.

Annual Event

Saturday’s rallies were part of a scheduled annual event marking the end of unrest that broke out after the disputed 2009 re-election of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which state institutions in Iran refer to as “the sedition.”

Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli urged people not to take part in unauthorized gatherings and protests, calling the events over the past two days “illegal,” the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency reported.

“If people intend to protest, they should apply for a permit and it will be assessed,” he said.

Government officials have described protests as a plot against the Islamic Revolution, and some suspected hardline opponents may have been behind them. Economic issues “were being used as an excuse and something else, behind the curtain, is going on,” first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri said in a speech Friday.

Middle Classes

“The middle classes need to take part in these protests for them to gain any momentum and they won’t, because by and large, they are still backing Rouhani,” Saeed Laylaz, a domestic economist, said in an interview.

Videos purporting to be of the anti-government protests in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, circulated widely on social media platforms including Twitter and Telegram, and showed protesters chanting against Rouhani and calling for “the economically corrupt” to be executed. A small number of people were also detained in Tehran, a senior provincial official told the Iran Labor News Agency.

Rouhani’s government has faced criticism since his May re-election from both hardline opponents and disillusioned supporters, who had been expecting a broader economic recovery following the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and easing of international sanctions. Households have been strained by rising prices of some key goods, while instability among unregulated lenders has also triggered unrest in the past six months.

“Many reports of peaceful protests Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad,” Trump wrote in his tweet on Friday. Earlier, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that “the United States strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters.”

Demolishing Property

The arrests in Mashhad were for “demolishing public property and lacking a permit for the protests,” the city’s deputy attorney general, Hassan Heydari, told Tasnim.

Several provinces this week reported the price of eggs had risen by as much as 50 percent, according to the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency. The price increase was caused by an outbreak of avian influenza, government spokesman, Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht, told reporters on Wednesday, according to Tasnim.

In Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the leader of Friday prayers who is seen as a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that protesters shouldn’t allow their concerns “to become fodder for the foreign media, which wants to sow sedition.” A day earlier, he said people had a right to be unhappy with the economic situation.

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