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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Protesters 'shot dead' during third day of demonstrations in Iran

Demonstrators defy warnings by the authorities to avoid 'illegal gatherings'

At least two people were shot dead by Iranian security forces during a third day of anti-government protests in cities across the country, according to reports Saturday citing videos posted on social media.

Footage showed two men lying on the ground covered in blood, according to Reuters. Other protesters in the western town of Dorud were chanting, "I will kill whoever killed my brother!"

Separate videos posted and shared on Twitter showed two men being carried away in Dorud where marchers were seen earlier shouting slogans against Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Another showed an apparently lifeless man being dragged by protesters, the ground left bloody behind him. It was not clear if the footage was all from the same incident.

The protests are the largest since pro-reform rallies of 2009 and have spread to a number of cities. Police vehicles were set alight, posters of the country's leadership pulled down and local government buildings set alight, according to social media, a key source of information with most foreign media barred from the country.

Iran warned citizens to avoid “illegal gatherings” as thousands turned out for state-sponsored rallies staged each year to mark the suppression of the last major round of unrest in 2009.

"We urge all those who receive these calls to protest not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens," said interior minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

"People who want to hold a rally must file a request and the interior ministry and the provincial governor's office will review it.”

Despite the warning, students and others demonstrated at Tehran University on Saturday. A video shared on social media appeared to show students scuffling with police near the university and chanting slogans against the regime.

The Fars news agency put the number of protesters at "between 50 and 70" — far lower than in other cities on previous days — and said riot police had been dispatched to the scene.

"Unlike other protests in various cities which were against the economic situation and high prices, the one in front of the university of Tehran was political," Fars said.

The students repeated a popular chant of "Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran " — an expression of anger over claims the government is focusing more on regional issues than problems at home.

The authorities appeared to respond by cutting internet access to mobile phones, with the main networks interrupted in Tehran shortly before midnight, according to AFP.

The Telegram messaging app, which has 40 million users in Iran, blocked a channel after the regime said it was encouraging “hateful conduct,” including the use of Molotov cocktails and armed uprising.

Chief executive Pavel Durov said the channel, amadnews, was suspended owing to its “no calls for violence” rule.

The protests against the government broke out in the second Iranian city of Mashhad on Thursday and spread to a number of other cities including Tehran where protesters stoned riot police.

Brigadier-General Esmail Kowsari, the Revolutionary Guards' deputy security chief in Tehran, said the situation in the capital was under control and warned protesters would face "the nation's iron fist" if unrest persisted.

Although the protests were initially focused on high living costs, they quickly turned political and against the government.

People were chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Free political prisoners”.

Witnesses said there were even chants in favour of the monarchy toppled by the Islamic revolution of 1979.

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US declares support for Iranians protesting against 'rogue state'

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According to Fars, police arrested 52 people in Thursday’s protests, after which US president Donald Trump warned “the world is watching”.

“Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever,” he said in his latest tweet on Saturday.

He had previously tweeted about protests by Iranian citizens “fed up with regime's corruption & its squandering of the nation's wealth to fund terrorism abroad”.

However, Iran’s foreign ministry dismissed Mr Trump’s comments as “irrelevant” and opportunistic”.

"The Iranian people see no value in the opportunistic remarks by American officials and Mr Trump," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on its website.

He said Iranians remembered Mr Trump's actions in barring them from entry to the US and "the arrest of many Iranians in that country on baseless pretexts".

"That's why they see the support of these officials for some rallies in recent days in some Iranian cities as opportunistic," he added.

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Iran witnesses more anti-government protests in Tehran and Kermanshah

Protesters arrested in Iran after rally against price hikes

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Footage on Friday showed thousands gathered in the cities of Rasht, Hamedan, Kermanshah, Qazvin and elsewhere, with police responding with water cannons.

Officials were quick to blame outside forces for the unrest.

"Although people have a right to protest, protesters must know how they are being directed," Massoumeh Ebtekar, vice president in charge of women's affairs, wrote on Twitter.

Also on Saturday, pro-regime rallies were held to mark the defeat of the last major protest movement in 2009, which hardliners call “the sedition”.

Since the 2009 protests were ruthlessly put down by the Revolutionary Guards, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of pressing for change from the streets.

But low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, often on a sector-by-sector basis as bus drivers or teachers or workers from specific factories protest against unpaid wages or poor conditions.

Some of the latest protests were directed against financial scandals linked to unauthorised lending institutions which collapsed with the loss of hundreds of thousands of accounts.