Protests in Iran stretch into third day despite government warnings

 In U.S.
Anti-government protests spurred by economic woes hit Iran for a third day Saturday, news agencies and social media reported, in what has quickly emerged as a significant challenge to the administration of President Hassan Rouhani.

Demonstrators protesting price increases and high unemployment turned out in cities and towns across the country, defying police and voicing anger at the cleric-ruled government, in an extraordinary display of public dissent.

Officials warned Saturday that citizens should stay away from “illegal gatherings,” even as protests spread to new regions.

Footage emerged late Saturday of demonstrators appearing to attack government buildings and engaging in violent confrontations with police. The BBC Persian service reported that two demonstrators had been shot in the western part of the country, citing video on social media. Reuters reported that videos on social media showed two men lying on the ground covered with blood. A voiceover said the men had been shot dead by riot police firing on protesters.

One video from Tehran showed protesters tearing down posters of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds absolute authority in Iran. The images were posted online and could not immediately be verified.

Anti-government protests broke out in Iran for the third day running on Dec. 30 as separate state-sponsored rallies were staged to mark the end of unrest that shook the country in 2009, according to Iranian news agencies and state media. (Reuters)

The demonstrations were the largest since a 2009 uprising over disputed election results. Those protests — dubbed the “Green Movement” — were quashed by security forces.

“This is more grass-roots. It’s much more spontaneous, which makes it more unpredictable,” Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said of the current protests.

“Things are not working out economically for ordinary Iranians,” he said. “But the root causes, and the much deeper resentment, go back decades. People do not feel this regime represents them.”

President Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday that “the entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change.”

“Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most,” he tweeted.

Earlier in the day, after a prior Trump tweet, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman lashed out at the American president, saying Iran “does not pay attention to the opportunistic claims by U.S. officials,” according to state media.

Rouhani, a moderate, was elected to a second four-year term in May, pledging that he would continue to open up Iran to the world. But he has so far failed to deliver on promises of a revived economy since the 2015 nuclear deal, which was his signature achievement.

That agreement with the United States and five other world powers curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions. But rampant corruption, problems in the banking sector, and unilateral U.S. sanctions have hindered the country’s economic progress.

Rouhani released a proposed budget this month that called for slashing cash subsidies to the poor and rasing fuel prices — part of an effort to reduce debt and move the economy away from oil exports. The plan also included fees for things such as car registration and an unpopular departure tax, which sparked public debate.

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