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Iran Holds Annual Pro-Government Rallies After Economic Protests

Overtly political demonstrations are rare in Iran, where security services are omnipresent.

Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli urged Iranians on Saturday “not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens,” according to the BBC.

The Revolutionary Guards, which along with its Basij militia spearheaded a crackdown against protesters in 2009, said in a statement carried by state news media on Saturday that Iran “will not allow the country to be hurt.”

President Trump tweeted support overnight for the protesters, saying the government should respect the people’s right to express themselves.

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The pro-government marchers in Tehran on Saturday. Iranian state television said rallies were scheduled in more than 1,200 cities and towns. Credit Hamed Malekpour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The world is watching!” Mr. Trump said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bahram Qassemi, condemned the statement by the president and another by the State Department supporting the protests as “meddlesome” and “opportunistic,” saying Iran would pay no heed to Mr. Trump’s remarks.

In a rare move, state television broadcast its first reports on the protests Saturday, acknowledging that some protesters were chanting the name of Iran’s one-time shah, who fled into exile just before its 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to reports.

“Counterrevolution groups and foreign media are continuing their organized efforts to misuse the people’s economic and livelihood problems and their legitimate demands to provide an opportunity for unlawful gatherings and possibly chaos,” a broadcaster was quoted as saying.

Some social media users called for more antigovernment rallies in Tehran and other cities later Saturday. The Associated Press reported that hundreds of students had joined a protest at Tehran University on Saturday, citing witnesses who said they had seen riot police officers at the university gates. Some nearby streets were blocked off.

President Hassan Rouhani won re-election this year on promises to revitalize an economy hit hard by international sanctions. But the cumulative effect of those sanctions and decades of government mismanagement have taken their toll on the economy.

The nation’s unemployment stood at 12.4 percent this fiscal year, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, up 1.4 percentage points from the previous year. Of a population of 80 million, about 3.2 million Iranians are jobless.

At the government-sanctioned rally on Saturday, one demonstrator, Ali Ahmadi, 27, blamed the United States for Iran’s economic problems, according to The A.P.

“They always say that we are supporting Iranian people, but who should pay the costs?” he said.

The unauthorized protests began in Mashhad, a city of two million in the northeast that is one of the holiest places in Shiite Islam. Some protesters shouted, “Death to Rouhani.”

Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist ally of the president, said that hard-line conservative opponents of the Mr. Rouhani might have galvanized the protests but lost control of them.

“Those who are behind such events will burn their own fingers,” state media quoted him as saying.

Source: NYT > World

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