Iran declares victory

TEHRAN, Iran, Jan 7, (Agencies): Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said on Sunday that the nation and its security forces have ended the wave of unrest linked to anti-government protests that erupted last month. In a statement on its website, the force blamed the unrest on the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as an exiled opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, and supporters of the monarchy that was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Price hikes sparked protests in a number of cities and towns late last month, and at least 21 people were killed in scattered clashes. The protests, which vented anger at high unemployment and official corruption, were the largest seen in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election, and some demonstrators called for the overthrow of the government. The Revolutionary Guard is a powerful paramilitary force loyal to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Many of the demonstrators protested against the Guard’s massive budget, its costly interventions across the region, and against the supreme leader himself. Hundreds of people have been detained since the protests began.

They include around 90 university students, reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency. Later on Sunday, Tehran prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said that 70 of the detained protesters have been released on bail during the last 48 hours. He added that there would be more releases from detention, except for the main instigators of the riots who will be “dealt with seriously.” Iranian lawmakers held a closed session on Sunday in which senior security officials briefed them on the protests and the conditions of the detainees, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

“It was emphasized that foreign elements, and in particular the United States, played a basic role in forming and manipulating the recent unrest,” IRNA quoted lawmaker Jalal Mirzaei as saying. The United States and Israel have expressed support for the protests, which began on Dec 28 in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, but deny allegations of fomenting them.

Thousands of government supporters staged rallies in Iran for a fourth day on Saturday in a backlash against widespread anti-government protests that the clerical establishment has blamed on the country’s enemies. Saturday’s show of support took place a day after Iran’s foreign minister said a United Nations Security Council meeting called by the United States to discuss the protests had proved a “blunder” by the administration of US President Donald Trump. State television showed rallies and marches in more than a dozen cities with demonstrators waving Iranian flags and chanting slogans including “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and “Death to Britain”.

More than a week of unrest has seen 22 people die and more than 1,000 arrested, according to Iranian officials, in the biggest anti-government protests for nearly a decade. Unrest spread to more than 80 cities and rural towns as thousands of young and working-class Iranians voiced anger at graft, unemployment and a deepening gap between rich and poor. Residents contacted by Reuters in various cities have said the protests had subsided in recent days, after the government intensified a crackdown by dispatching Revolutionary Guards forces to several provinces.

On Saturday, videos on social media showed a heavy police presence in cities, including Khorramabad in southwestern Iran where on Wednesday evening social media posts showed protesters throwing stones at riot police. The protests have drawn largely young people and workers as well as members of the educated middleclass that formed the backbone of a pro-reform revolt almost a decade ago.

The provincial governor in northeastern Mashhad, where the protests started, was quoted as saying on Saturday that 85 percent of detainees there had been released after signing a pledge not to re-offend. “Those with a criminal record, or those charged with sabotage such as setting fire to motorcycles or damaging public buildings have been referred to judicial authorities,” governor Alireza Rashidian told the ISNA news agency. A police spokesman said most of those arrested were “duped” into joining the unrest and had been freed on bail, the state news agency IRNA reported. “But, the leaders of the unrest are held by the judiciary in prison.” Tehran University Vice-President Majid Sarsangi said the university had set up a committee to track the fate of students arrested during the unrest. “Our efforts at the university are aimed at cooperating with the relevant authorities to create the conditions for the return of the detained students to the university and their families in the shortest possible time,” Sarsangi told ISNA.

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