Josie Ensor and Reuters — Reuters Dec 29, 2017
Iranian police clashed with protesters demonstrating against government corruption on Friday, in a rare public show of discontent in the Islamic republic.
About 300 people gathered in the western city of Kermanshah on Friday calling for a “revolution”, shouting “where’s my paycheck?”, “the people are begging, the clerics act like God” and “death to the dictator”.
It followed a day after similar protests in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where more than 50 were arrested.
President Hassan Rouhani’s government has been unable to control spiralling prices – the costs of basics such as milk and eggs has doubled in a week. And despite the loosening of international sanctions in 2015, the country has seen little economic growth and few ordinary residents feel they have benefitted.
There have been calls on social media for protests up and down the country, despite warnings from the government against illegal gatherings.
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The outbreak of unrest reflects growing discontent over rising prices and alleged corruption, as well as concern over the country’s costly involvement in regional conflicts such as Syria and Iraq.
There were also chants in Mashhad on Thursday of “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran” and “leave Syria, think about us”.
Mohsen Nasj Hamadani, deputy security chief in Tehran province, said about 50 people had rallied in a Tehran square and most left after being asked to by police, but a few who refused were “temporarily detained”, the ILNA news agency reported.
In the central city of Isfahan, a resident said protesters joined a rally held by factory workers demanding back-pay.
“The slogans quickly changed from the economy to those against Rouhani and the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei),” the resident said by telephone.
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In Qom, a stronghold of the Shi’ite clergy, footage posted on social media showed protesters attacking Ayatollah Khamenei by name. “Seyyed Ali should be ashamed and leave the country alone,” they chanted.
Police arrested 52 people in Thursday’s protests, Fars quoted a judicial official as saying in Mashhad, one of the holiest places in Shi’ite Islam.
In social media footage, riot police were seen using water cannon and tear gas to disperse crowds. Some social media videos showed demonstrators chanting “Death to Rouhani” and “Death to the dictator”. Protests were also held in at least two other northeastern cities.
Openly political protests are rare in Iran, where security services are omnipresent.
The last unrest of national significance occurred in 2009 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election as president ignited eight months of street protests. Pro-reform rivals said the vote was rigged.
The protests came as Tehran looked to have bowed to internal pressure to relax its strict Islamic dress codes.
Morality police in the capital said they will no longer automatically arrest women for failing to women seen without the proper hijab head-covering in public, mandated since the 1979 revolution.
For nearly 40 years, women in Iran have been forced to cover their hair and wear long, loose garments.
Younger and more liberal-minded women have long pushed the boundaries of the official dress code, wearing loose headscarves that do not fully cover their hair and painting their nails, drawing the ire of conservatives.
The announcement signalled an easing of punishments for violating the country’s conservative dress code, as called for by the reform-minded Iranians who helped re-elect President Rouhani, a relative moderate, earlier this year.