TEHRAN: Nationwide protests in Iran saw their most violent night as “armed protesters” tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, bringing the death toll in the unrest to at least 12, state television reported on Monday.
The nationwide protests have drawn in tens of thousands of people and represent the boldest challenge to Iran’s leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009. Calls for more demonstrations on Monday raise the possibility of prolonged instability.
“Some armed protesters tried to take control of some police stations and military bases but they met strong resistance from security forces,” state TV said.
State television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze. It reported that clashes on Sunday night killed 10 people.
“Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces,” state TV reported. It did not say where those attacks occurred.
Later Monday, state TV said clashes killed six people in the western town of Tuyserkan, 295 km southwest of Tehran. It said clashes in the town of Shahinshahr, 315km south of Tehran, killed three more. It did not say where the 10th person was killed.
Earlier Monday, the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Hedayatollah Khademi, a representative for the town of Izeh, as saying two people died there on Sunday night.
He said the cause of death was not immediately known, though authorities later described one of the deaths as the result of a personal dispute. Many in Izeh, some 455km southwest of Tehran, have hunting rifles in their homes.
Two protesters also were killed during clashes late on Saturday in Doroud, some 325 km southwest of Tehran in Lorestan province, authorities earlier said.
Iran is a major oil producer and regional power but frustrations have grown at home while the country is deeply involved in Syria and Iraq.
Those foreign interventions are also fueling anger in the country because Iranians want their leaders to create jobs instead of engaging in costly proxy wars.
Unsigned statements posted on social media urged Iranians to demonstrate again in the capital Tehran and 50 other urban centers.
The unrest erupted in the second city of Mashhad against price rises but it swiftly spread and turned into political rallies.
Some called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and chanted against a government they described as thieves.
Demonstrators say they are angry over corruption and economic hardship in a country where youth unemployment reached 28.8 percent last year.
Protests continued on Sunday night even though President Hassan Rouhani appealed for calm. In remarks carried on state TV, he said Iranians had the right to criticize authorities but also warned of a crackdown.
“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society,” Rouhani said. Hundreds of people have been arrested but security forces have largely shown restraint.
Iran’s leaders believe they can count on support from many of the generation that took part in the 1979 revolution because of their ideological commitment and the economic gains they have made under the government, analysts say.
Social media restrictions
Police in central Tehran fired water cannon on Sunday to try to disperse demonstrators, according to pictures on social media.
Demonstrations turned violent in Shahin Shahr in central Iran.
Videos showed protesters attacking the police, turning over a car and setting it on fire. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage.
There were also reports of demonstrations in the western cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah as well as Chabahar in the southeast and Ilam and Izeh in the southwest.
The protests were the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Videos showed people in central Tehran chanting: “Down with the dictator!” in an apparent reference to Khamenei.
Protesters in Khorramabad in western Iran shouted: “Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!“
The government said it would temporarily restrict access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram, state television said. There were also reports that mobile access to the Internet was being blocked in some areas.
“Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama administration,” US President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday.
“The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food and for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. Time for change!” he said.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz on Monday voiced encouragement for the protests but said Israeli policy was not to get involved in Tehran’s internal affairs.