DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s parliament speaker warned Sunday that protests over the death of a young woman in police custody could destabilize the country and urged security forces to crack down on those he says endanger public order, while riots across the country reached their peak. third week.
Scattered anti-government protests appeared to break out in Tehran and clashes with security forces in other cities, social media reports showed on Sunday, even as the government has taken steps to block, in whole or in part, internet connectivity. in Iran.
Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf told lawmakers that unlike the current protests, which he said are aimed at toppling the government, previous demonstrations by teachers and retirees over wages were aimed at reforms, according to the legislative body’s website.
“The important point of the (past) protests was that they were seeking reforms and were not aimed at overthrowing” the system, Qalibaf said. and overthrow” of institutions.
Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets over the past two weeks to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by Iran’s morality police in the capital Tehran for allegedly not adhering to strict dress code. Islamic of Iran. code.
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Protesters expressed their anger at the treatment of women and the broader crackdown in the Islamic Republic. The nationwide demonstrations quickly turned into calls for the overthrow of the clerical system that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
Iranian state television reported that at least 41 protesters and policemen have been killed since the demonstrations began on September 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities put at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 protesters arrested.
Qalibaf, the speaker of parliament, is an influential former commander of the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Along with the president and the head of the judiciary, he is one of three high-ranking officials who deal with all the important affairs of the nation.
The three meet regularly and sometimes meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state affairs.
Qalibaf said he believes many of those who participated in the recent protests did not intend to topple the government at first and claimed that foreign-based opposition groups were fomenting protests aimed at bringing down the system. Iranian authorities have presented no evidence for their allegations of foreign involvement in the protests.
“Creating chaos in the streets will weaken social integrity, jeopardize the economy, and increase pressure and sanctions from the enemy,” he said, referring to longstanding crippling US sanctions against Iran.
Qalibaf promised to “amend the structures and methods of the morality police” to prevent a repeat of what happened to Amini. The young woman died in the custody of the morality police. Her family alleged that she was beaten, while authorities claim that she died of a heart attack.
His comments came after a closed-door meeting of parliament and a brief rally by lawmakers to express support for Khamenei and the police, chanting “death to the hypocrites,” a reference to Iranian opposition groups.
Qalibaf’s statement is seen as a call to Iranians to stop their protests while supporting the police and security apparatus.
Meanwhile, the hardline daily Kayhan said on Sunday that knife-wielding protesters attacked the newspaper’s building on Saturday and smashed windows with stones. He said they left when Guard members were deployed to the site.
On Saturday, protests continued on the Tehran University campus and in nearby neighborhoods and witnesses said they saw many girls waving their scarves above their heads in a gesture of defiance. Videos allegedly showing similar protests at Mashhad and Shiraz universities were posted on social media, but The Associated Press was unable to independently verify their authenticity.
A protester near Tehran University, Fatemeh, 19, who gave only her first name for fear of repercussions, said she joined the demonstration “to stop this behavior by the police against young people, especially girls.” ”.
Abdolali, a 63-year-old teacher who also declined to give his last name, said police shot him twice in the foot. He said: “I am here to accompany and support my daughter. I once participated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that promised justice and freedom; it is time to materialize them”.
Protests resumed on Sunday in several cities, including Mashhad and Tehran’s Sharif Industrial University, according to social media reports. Witnesses said security was tight in areas near Tehran University and its downtown neighborhoods, as hundreds of plainclothes and riot police with their cars and motorcycles were stationed at intersections and squares. The AP could not immediately verify the authenticity of the reports.
Also on Sunday, the media reported the death of another member of the Revolutionary Guard in the city of Zahedan, in the southeast of the country. That brought to five the number of IRG members killed in an attack on a police station by gunmen that state media said left 19 dead.
It was unclear whether the attack, which Iranian authorities say was carried out by separatists, was related to the anti-government protests.
Local media said a police officer had also died in the Kurdish town of Marivan, following injuries sustained during clashes with protesters. The protests have drawn supporters from various ethnic groups, including Kurdish opposition movements in northwestern Iran that operate along the border with neighboring Iraq. Amini, 22, was an Iranian Kurd and the protests first broke out in Kurdish areas.
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