At least 13 dead as Iran protests intensify

The unrest in Iran is intensifying and spreading. Will its bring down the Ayatollah regime? 

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Protests across Iran saw their most violent night as “armed protesters” tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, killing 10 people, Iranian state television said Monday.

The demonstrations, the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, have seen five days of unrest across the country and a death toll of at least 13 with the slaying of a police officer announced late Monday.

The protests began Thursday in Mashhad over Iran’s weak economy and a jump in food prices and have expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hundreds have been arrested.

Iranian state television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze. It said 10 people were killed by security forces during clashes Sunday night.

“Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces,” state TV said.

There have been scattered reports on deaths throughout Iranian cities. The regime has banned Western and independent reporting on the incidents and so the exact scale and scope of the clashes and deaths is not accurately known.

Late Monday, Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency said an assailant using a hunting rifle killed a policeman and wounded three other officers during a demonstration in the central city of Najafabad, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Tehran. The slaying marked the first security force member to be killed in the unrest.

On Sunday, Iran blocked access to Instagram, the popular Telegram messaging app used by activists to organize.

Regime threatens harsh crackdown

President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the public’s anger over the Islamic Republic’s flagging economy, though he and others also warned that the government would not hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers.

That statement was echoed Monday by judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, who urged authorities to confront rioters, state TV reported. “I demand all prosecutors across the country to get involved and the approach should be strong,” he said.

Rouhani also stressed Monday that Iran “has seen many similar events and passed them easily.”

Iran’s economy has improved since the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.

That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which the government has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

Some of the protesters have called on the regime to cease with investments in wars in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Gaza, and instead invest in the Islamic Republic’s citizens.

“We will be here every day. Thousands of us, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, until the corrupt regime falls,” protesters said, according to the Israel Hayom daily.

While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and its affiliates have not intervened as they had in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.

Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri , the IRGC commander and deputy chief of staff for Iran’s military, said Monday that Trump’s support for the protesters “indicates planning by the US for launching a new sedition in Iran.”

Netanyahu praises ‘brave, heroic,’ protests

US President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting in support of the protesters, continued into the New Year, describing Iran as “failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration.”

“The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years,” Trump wrote. “They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

“The time has come for the regime in Tehran to end terrorist activities, corruption, & their disregard for human rights,” he said in another tweet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the protesters “brave” and “heroic,” said in a video posted to YouTube on Monday that the protesters sought freedom, justice and “the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.” He criticized the Iranian regime’s response to the protests and chided European governments for watching “in silence” as the protests turn violent.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a statement late Monday, saying, “there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising and we look to the Iranian authorities to permit this.”

“We regret the loss of life that has occurred in the protests in Iran, and call on all concerned to refrain from violence and for international obligations on human rights to be observed,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also said in a statement that “after the confrontation of the past days, it is all the more important for all sides to refrain from violent action.”