Fresh demonstrations in Iran met with water cannons, 200 arrested
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Fresh demonstrations in Iran met with water cannons, 200 arrested

Regime downplays protests against faltering economy, as Twitter shows people taking to the streets, violent response from police

In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, university students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)
In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, university students attend a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, December 30, 2017. (AP Photo)

Fresh demonstrations erupted across Iran on Sunday in a fourth day of protests over Iran’s faltering economy. Videos tweeted from Iran showed water cannons being used against demonstrators in Tehran, while hundreds of others held rallies in other cities.

The new protests came as officials said that 200 people were arrested in Saturday’s protests in Tehran, including 40 “leaders.” Authorities also sought to limit access to the internet and social media apps. Earlier, officials said two demonstrators had been killed overnight in the first deaths attributed to the rallies.

“These individuals are now with the judiciary and some others have been freed out of clemency,” Ali Asghar Nasserbakht, a security deputy for Tehran’s governor, told the semi-official ILNA news agency.

He said 40 of those arrested were “leaders” and that their protests had not been related to the economy. “Some opposition groups from abroad make our youth emotional,” he said.

Several hundred people protested around the University of Tehran on Saturday, and there were reports of vandalism during the night, including an attack on a town hall.

Meanwhile, authorities acknowledged the first fatalities in the protests in Doroud, a city some 325 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Tehran in Iran’s western Lorestan province. Protesters had gathered for an unauthorized rally that lasted into the night Saturday, said Habibollah Khojastepour, the security deputy of Lorestan’s governor. The two protesters were killed in clashes at the rally, he said.

“The gathering was to be ended peacefully, but due to the presence of the (agitators), unfortunately, this happened,” Khojastepour said.

He did not offer a cause of death for the two protesters, but said “no bullets were shot from police and security forces at the people.”

However, the reformist Etemad newspaper quoted Hamid Reza Kazemi, a lawmaker from Lorestan, confirming police fired shots in the clashes.

“If someone comes to the street and acts like a norm breaker, what would you do?” the newspaper quoted Kazemi as saying.

Videos circulating on social media late Saturday also appeared to show fallen protesters in Doroud as gunshots sounded in the background. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the footage.

While the government attempted to downplay Sunday’s protests, social media showed large numbers of people taking to the streets in Tehran, Tabriz, Kermanshah, Sanandaj and Khorramabad in the west of the country.

Iranian media downplayed the latest round of demonstrations, claiming most parts of the capital were calm though admitting there was fear of riots.

Around 200 protesters marched through downtown Tehran on Sunday, according to the conservative-linked semi-official Fars news agency, as authorities braced for a possible fourth night of unrest.

Several hundred more were shown gathering in the western city of Kermanshah, according to footage shared online by a group linked to the Revolutionary Guards.

“Contrary to rumors from hostile media, most parts of Tehran are calm. Around 200 people are occasionally chanting here and there,” Fars said.

It said stores had closed early, “for fear of damage to their shops by rioters.”

Social media reported that a dozen different groups of protesters were gathered in various parts of Tehran, but police were preventing them from coming together.

It was difficult to gain a full picture of the extent of the protests, as the regime blocked access to Instagram and a popular messaging app used by activists to organize and publicize the protests now roiling the Islamic Republic, as authorities said two demonstrators had been killed overnight in the first deaths attributed to the rallies.

Another account said that in the northwestern city of Sanandaj, security forces opened fire at the protesters.

There were many videos which appeared to show police violence against the protesters.

Although authorities blocked Telegram messaging service Sunday, along with the photo-sharing app Instagram, which is owned by tech giant Facebook, large numbers of people took to the streets.

Iran’s state TV news website, iribnews.ir, quoted an anonymous source saying that social media in Iran would be temporarily limited as a safety measure.

“With a decision by the Supreme National Security Council, activities of Telegram and Instagram are temporarily limited,” the report said, without elaborating.

The demonstrations, which began Thursday over the economic woes plaguing Iran and continued Sunday, appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since the protests that followed the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

US Vice President Mike Pence echoed the President Donald Trump’s support for the protesters.

US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted her support for the Iranian protesting against their government.

“Our hopes and prayers are with the millions of people suffering from repressing governments,” she posted, “especially in Iran, where the Iranian people are finding their voice.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also sent his support to the demonstrators and called on the Iranian government to respect their rights.

“It is the right of all people to speak out against their government,” he wrote. “The government of Iran should respect this right and heed the voices of thousands of Iranians who are demonstrating across the country for better opportunities and a better future.”

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