TEHRAN, Iran - The daily protests in Iran, which started on Thursday, have continued despite warnings from the government and have turned more violent in recent days.
On Monday, the state media reported that ten people were dead overnight as violence escalated during street protests on Sunday.
As tens of thousands of people continue to be drawn to the streets, chanting anti-government slogans, the protests nationwide pose the boldest challenge to Iran’s leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009.
On Monday, calls for more demonstrations raised the possibility of prolonged instability in the country.
A report in Iran’s state television featured footage of damage from the demonstrations and noted, “In the events of last night, unfortunately, a total of about 10 people were killed in several cities.”
However, the report did not provide any further details of the deaths.
Unsigned statements were also posted on social media, uring Iranians to demonstrate again in the capital Tehran and 50 other urban centers this week.
What sparked the protests?
Since the nuclear deal, under which the country agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions, Iran’s economy has improved.
Tehran currently sells oil on the global market and has signed deals worth tens of billions of dollars for western aircraft.
However, the improvement has not filtered down to the average Iranian.
Unemployment remains high in the country and official inflation has crept back up to 10 percent.
The anti-government protests also appeared to have been sparked by a recent increase of up to 40 percent in the price of eggs and poultry.
A government spokesman blamed this on a cull due to avian flu fears.
Over the last few years, frustrations have continued to grow since Iran is deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.
The foreign interventions are also fueling anger in the Islamic Republic because Iranians want their leaders to create jobs instead of engaging in costly proxy wars.
On Thursday, the anti-government protests began in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city where thousands of people marched, holding banners and shouting slogans against the poor state of the economy.
Soon, the demonstrations took on a political edge as participants criticized the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and his government.
Unverified videos posted on social media also showed clashes between protesters and police.
The country’s Fars news agency said protests had spread on Friday to Qom, the world’s leading centre for Shia scholarship and home to a major shrine.
Reports noted that the police had arrested some protesters, but the country’s Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have maintained that they did not intervene as they have in other unauthorised demonstrations since the 2009 election.
Over the weekend, two deaths were reported and several others were injured in the street demonstration in the southwestern town of Izeh, but no confirmation or details were received on the same.
Further, the anti-government protests over corruption and living standards also saw scores of people being arrested.
As more groups continued to stage protests, Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli urged people "not to participate in these illegal gatherings as they will create problems for themselves and other citizens.”
The Iranian authorities blamed anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers for the outbreak of anti-establishment protest.
However, the arrests and deaths led to criticism from the Trump administration, which strongly condemned the arrests, with the State Department saying that the U.S. urged “all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”
On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the protests and said, “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests”
Then, on Sunday, pictures on social media showed police in the center of Tehran firing water cannon to try to disperse demonstrators.
Demonstrations turned violent in Shahin Shahr in central Iran and videos showed protesters attacking the police, turning over a car and setting it on fire.
Videos showed people in central Tehran chanting, “Down with the dictator!” in an apparent reference to Khamenei.
Meanwhile, protesters in Khorramabad in western Iran shouted, “Khamenei, shame on you, leave the country alone!”
Reports of demonstrations also emerged in the western cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah as well as Chabahar in the southeast and Ilam and Izeh in the southwest.
What happens next?
Despite the country’s President Hassan Rouhani appealing for calm, protests continued overnight and into Monday.
Rouhani said in remarks carried on state TV that Iranians had the right to criticize authorities but also warned of a crackdown.
He said, “The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society.”
So far, hundreds of people have been arrested but security forces have largely shown restraint.
The government has meanwhile said it would temporarily restrict access to the Telegram messaging app and Instagram, owned by Facebook Inc.
There were also reports that mobile access to the internet was being blocked in some areas.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted, “Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis, has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate. Not good!”
On Monday, Israel’s intelligence minister voiced encouragement for the protests but said Israeli policy was not to get involved in Tehran’s internal affairs.
Rouhani meanwhile lashed out and said the U.S. president had no right to sympathize with Iranians since he “called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago.”
Rouhani described Trump as an "enemy of the Iranian nation from the top of his head to his very toes.”