RFL/RE – Iranian police have dispersed antigovernment protesters and arrested dozens of people in the western city Kermanshah and the capital, Tehran, as demonstrations against price hikes have turned political and spread to several cities.
Semiofficial news agencies Fars and Mehr reported that police dispersed a rally of some 300 people who chanted “Political prisoners should be freed” and “Freedom or death” in Kermanshah.
Unconfirmed reports say that that up to 50 people were arrested in a demonstration in Kermanshah, on December 29, a day after hundreds protested against high prices and shouted political slogans in the country’s second-largest city, Mashhad.
Footage on social media showed protesters in Kermanshah’s central Azadi Square chanting “”Death to the dictator” and “The nation is struggling in poverty; The leader is trying to act as God.”
Various chants appeared to target both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, without naming him, and President Hassan Rohani.
Similar protests were reported in several other cities, including Rasht, Ghazvin, Qom, Esfahan, and Hamadan among others.
In Tehran, police arrested some 40 people who gathered for an unsanctioned rally, state media reported, quoting Mohsen Hamadani, a deputy governor of Tehran Province.
Earlier, Hamadani was quoted as saying that law enforcement agencies would take tough measures against any gatherings in the wake of the protests in Mashhad.
Political rallies are rare in Iran, but demonstrations are often held over economic issues such as layoffs, nonpayment of salaries, and price hikes.
Fars news agency reported that police arrested 52 people after December 28 rallies in Mashhad.
Videos posted on social media showed some protesters in Mashhad chanting slogans including “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Rohani,” with police using water cannons to push back the crowds.
Some others chanted “Leave Syria alone, think about us,” condemning Iran’s financial and military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are fighting government opponents in a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Mohammad Rahim Norouzian, the Mashhad governor, as saying there was an illegal “No To High Prices” gathering in the city.
Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a Rohani ally, suggested that hard-line opponents of the president may have started the protests in Mashhad.
“When a social and political movement is launched on the streets, those who started it will not necessarily be able to control it in the end,” IRNA quoted Jahangiri as saying.
“Those who are behind such events will burn their own fingers. They think they will hurt the government by doing so,” he warned.
Prices on many essential products, including eggs, have increased up to 40 percent in recent days. Farmers have blamed the hikes on higher prices for imported feed.
According to Iran’s Central Bank, inflation in the country is running at about 10 percent.
The semiofficial Ilna news agency reported there were smaller protests in Neyshabour, Kashmar, Yazd, and Shahroud on December 28.
With reporting by Reuters