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Hundreds held, internet blocked as Raisi calls ‘to deal decisively’ with Iran demos

Local police chief says over 700 people arrested in just one province during 8 successive nights of protests; official death toll doubles to 35, rights group says many more killed

Women chant slogans and hold up signs depicting the image of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities, during a demonstration denouncing her death held by Iraqi and Iranian Kurds outside the UN offices in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on September 24, 2022. (Safin Hamed/AFP)
Women chant slogans and hold up signs depicting the image of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities, during a demonstration denouncing her death held by Iraqi and Iranian Kurds outside the UN offices in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on September 24, 2022. (Safin Hamed/AFP)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday called “to deal decisively” with protests triggered by the death of a young woman detained by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, prompting a deadly crackdown.

In a phone call with the family of a Basij militiaman allegedly killed by demonstrators in Iran’s second-largest city Mashhad, Raisi stressed “the need to distinguish between protest and disruption of public order and security,” while denouncing the current unrest as “as rioting and evil.”

“[He] emphasized the need to deal decisively with the disruptors of the security and peace of the country,” a statement released by his office said.

The comments came as the Tasnim news agency reported Saturday that Iranian police in just one province have arrested over 700 people since protests began over a week ago.

General Azizollah Maleki, police chief of Guilan province, announced “the arrest of 739 rioters including 60 women,” the Iranian media outlet said.

Angry demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including the capital Tehran, for eight straight nights since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

The Kurdish woman was pronounced dead after spending three days in a coma following her arrest by Iran’s feared morality police for wearing the hijab headscarf in an “improper” way.

A picture obtained by AFP outside Iran on September 21, 2022, shows Iranian demonstrators taking to the streets of the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. (AFP)

Earlier Saturday, the official death toll in the clampdown by Iranian security forces was reported to have more than doubled from 17 to 35.

However, according to the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights, at least 50 people have been killed by security forces in the anti-government protests.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a press conference, during his visit for the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Protests were held around the Islamic Republic on Friday, with online videos showing some turning violent in Tehran and other major cities including Tabriz.

In some of the footage, security forces could be seen firing what appeared to be live ammunition at unarmed demonstrators in the northwestern cities of Piranshahr, Mahabad and Urmia.

Security forces have carried out a wave of arrests of activists and journalists, including Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist newspaper Shargh, who reported on Amini’s death.

Amini died following her arrest by Iran’s morality police, a unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.

Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.

Women chant slogans and hold up signs depicting the image of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities, during a demonstration denouncing her death held by Iraqi and Iranian Kurds outside the UN offices in Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, on September 24, 2022. (Safin Hamed/AFP)

Iran has imposed tough restrictions on the use of the internet in a bid to hamper protesters gathering and stop the flow of images of the backlash from reaching the outside world.

The United States announced Friday it was easing export restrictions on Iran to expand internet services.

The new measures would “help counter the Iranian government’s efforts to surveil and censor its citizens,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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