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Middle East

Anti-government unrest in Iran dies down

© Atta Kenare, AFP | File photo of head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Jafar.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2018-01-04

Iran's Revolutionary Guards chief announced the "end of the sedition" Wednesday as tens of thousands rallied in a show of strength for the country's Islamic rulers after days of deadly unrest.

But even as state television aired footage shot from helicopters of the support for Iran’s clerically overseen government, videos emerged showing the anti-government unrest that has swept major cities has also spread to the countryside in the nation of 80 million people. It was unclear however when the videos were taken.

Protests over economic problems broke out in Iran’s second city Mashhad last week and quickly spread across the country. At least 21 people have been killed in the unrest and some five hundred have been arrested by authorities.

Revolutionary Guard chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari said the Guards intervened “in a limited way” against fewer than 15,000 demonstrators nationwide and that many had been taken into custody.

“A large number of the troublemakers at the centre of the sedition, who received training from counter-revolutionaries ... have been arrested and there will be firm action against them,” he said.

His declaration came after major rallies by regime supporters.

Chants of “Leader, we are ready” were heard as images showed thousands marching in the cities of Qom, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and elsewhere.

The demonstrators waved Iranian flags and pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as placards saying “death to seditionists”.

Though the anti-regime demonstrations began as protests against a faltering economy, they soon turned against the regime as a whole, presenting the biggest test for the authorities since mass demonstrations in 2009 sparked by disputed elections resulted in bloodshed.

While many Iranians denounce the violence that has accompanied some demonstrations, they echo the protesters’ frustration over the weak economy and official corruption.

US exerts pressure

A White House official, who asked for anonymity, said Wednesday the administration would look for “actionable information” to try to begin imposing sanctions on those responsible for any crackdown.

US President Donald Trump insisted Iranians were trying to “take back” their government, extending a drumbeat of encouragement for the protests.

“You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” he tweeted, without offering any specifics.

Iran’s UN Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo said in a letter that the US government “has stepped up its acts of intervention in a grotesque way” in Iran’s internal affairs and accused Washington of violating international law and the principles of the UN charter.

AFP journalists reported a heavy police presence still on the streets of central Tehran, along with a large number of Revolutionary Guards.

It remains difficult for journalists to piece together what’s happening beyond the capital, especially as the government has blocked both the photo-sharing app Instagram and the messaging app Telegram, which protesters have used to organise their demonstrations and share footage.

Telecoms Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi said Telegram would only be unblocked if it removed “terrorist” content.

The political establishment has closed ranks against the unrest, with Khamenei on Tuesday saying the regime’s enemies were “always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate”.

Even reformists in Iran, who backed the 2009 protests, have condemned the violence and the support the demonstrations have received from the United States.

But they also urged the authorities to address economic grievances.

“Officials must acknowledge the deplorable situation of the country as the first step to hearing the protesters,” tweeted Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, whose father Mehdi Karroubi has been under house arrest for almost seven years for helping lead the 2009 demonstrations.

'Some freedom in Iran'

Many Iranians appear to have been turned off by the violence, which has contrasted with the largely peaceful marches in 2009.

Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but high living costs and unemployment have left many feeling that progress is too slow.

Rural areas, hit by years of drought and under-investment, are particularly hard-hit.

On the streets of the capital, there is widespread sympathy with the economic grievances driving the unrest, particularly an unemployment rate as high as 30 percent for young people.

“People have reached a stage where they can no longer tolerate this pressure from the authorities,” said Soraya Saadaat, a 54-year-old jobless woman.

But some Tehranis said claims from the US that they were desperate for freedom were overblown.

“We do have some freedom in Iran,” Hamid Rahimi, a 33-year-old bank employee told AFP.

“If the people of Iran have something to say, it’s about economic problems. They want to see their demands, what they voted for, fulfilled.”

Mojtaba Mousavi, a Tehran-based political analyst, said Iranians do not generally support violence, no matter how unhappy they are with their government.

“There are certainly Iranians who aren’t happy with certain policies, frustrated people who would like to protest against their economic situation, but history shows none of these people support violence and subversion,” he said.

In 2009, authorities ruthlessly put down protests against the re-election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At least 36 people were killed, according to an official toll, while the opposition says 72 died.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2018-01-04

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