Iran blocks internet, may shut down Telegram app as protests spread
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Iran blocks internet, may shut down Telegram app as protests spread

Anti-regime demonstrators attack town hall in Tehran, burn Iranian flag; 3 said shot dead in central Iran by Revolutionary Guards

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017.
(AFP PHOTO / STR)
Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Demonstrators attacked a town hall in the Iranian capital Saturday as protests spilled into a third night despite government warnings against any further “illegal gatherings” and moves to cut off the internet on mobile phones.

Unverified videos on social media appeared to show thousands marching through the western cities of Khorramabad, Zanjan and Ahvaz, while reports spread rapidly that several people had been shot dead by police in the town of Dorud. According to Al-Arabiya, three Iranian protesters were killed by the Revolutionary Guards in the central Iran town.

A swirl of rumors, combined with travel restrictions and a near-total media blackout from official agencies, made it difficult to confirm the reports.

The authorities appeared to respond by cutting internet access to mobile phones, with the main networks interrupted at least in Tehran shortly before midnight, AFP reporters said.

Several Iranian news agencies warned Telegram, the most popular social media service in the country, might soon be shut down after communications minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi accused one popular channel, Amadnews, of encouraging an “armed uprising.”

Meanwhile, the conservative Mehr news agency posted videos of protesters attacking a town hall in central Tehran, overturning a police car and burning the Iranian flag.

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran on December 30, 2017.
Students protested in a third day of demonstrations, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Iranian social media accounts posted videos of demonstrators tearing down regime billboards featuring Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s photo.

There was chaos earlier around the capital’s university as hundreds took to the streets, blocking traffic and shouting slogans against the regime. The semi-official Fars news agency said 70 students protested at Tehran University, throwing rocks at police. They reportedly chanted “Death to the dictator,” in reference to Khamenei.

Reuters reported that footage on social media showed riot police clubbing and arresting the demonstrators, and said protesters were also arrested elsewhere in Tehran.

An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / STR)

But the authorities could also count on a show of strength, with hundreds of counter-demonstrators seizing control of the university entrance, chanting “Death to the seditionists.”

Annual rallies marking the defeat of the last major protest movement in 2009 had already been scheduled for Saturday morning and brought thousands of regime supporters to the streets across the country.

The protests began in the second city of Mashhad on Thursday as an attack on high living costs but quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole.

There were even chants in favor of the monarchy toppled by the Islamic revolution of 1979, while others criticized the regime for supporting the Palestinians and other regional movements rather than focusing on problems at home.

State news channel IRINN said it had been banned from covering the protests that spread to towns and cities including Qom and Kermanshah.

“The enemy wants once again to create a new plot and use social media and economic issues to foment a new sedition,” Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, a prominent cleric, told a crowd in Tehran, according to the conservative Fars news agency.

Other officials also pointed the blame outside Iran.

Iranian state-controlled media characterized the worst anti-regime protests in eight years, which began on Thursday, as masterminded by American, British, and Israeli spies seeking “to stir unrest” in the Islamic Republic.

US President Donald Trump tweeted later that Iran’s people wanted change and “oppressive regimes cannot endure forever.”

Iranian pro-regime protesters chant slogans at a rally in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iranian regime opponents held small-scale demonstrations Saturday in France and Germany to show support for the opposition groups who have held rallies inside their country in recent days.

Some 40 people demonstrated near the Iranian embassy in Paris to call for an end to Tehran’s “interference” in Syria and Lebanon, which Afchine Alavi, from the National Council of Iranian Resistance (CNRI), told AFP mirrored demands being made within Iran.

In Berlin, around 100 regime opponents gathered near the Iranian embassy to demand the immediate release of people arrested during three days of protests.

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