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Iran protests have violent night; at least 13 dead overall

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Protests across Iran saw their most violent night as "armed protesters" tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, killing 10 people, Iranian state television said Monday.

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In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, university students attend a protest inside Tehran University while anti-riot Iranian police prevent them to join other protestors, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. A wave of spontaneous protests over Iran's weak economy swept into Tehran on Saturday, with college students and others chanting against the government just hours after hard-liners held their own rally in support of the Islamic Republic's clerical establishment. (AP Photo)


The demonstrations, the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, have seen five days of unrest across the country and a death toll of at least 13 with the slaying of a police officer announced late Monday.

The protests began Thursday in Mashhad over Iran's weak economy and a jump in food prices and have expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

Iranian state television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze. It said 10 people were killed by security forces during clashes Sunday night.

"Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces," state TV said.

In a later report, state TV said killed six people were killed in the western town of Tuyserkan, 295 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Tehran, and three in the town of Shahinshahr, 315 kilometers (195 miles) south of Tehran. 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 Sunday night. He said the cause of death wasn't immediately known, though authorities later described one of the deaths as the result of a personal dispute.

Late Monday, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency said an assailant using a hunting rifle killed a policeman and wounded three other officers during a demonstration in the central city of Najafabad, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Tehran. The slaying marked the first security force member to be killed in the unrest.

Two protesters also were killed during clashes late Saturday in Doroud, some 325 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Tehran in Lorestan province, authorities have said.

On Sunday, Iran blocked access to Instagram and the popular messaging app Telegram used by activists to organize.

President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the public's anger over the Islamic Republic's flagging economy, though he and others warned that the government wouldn't hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers.

That was echoed Monday by judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, who urged authorities to confront rioters, state TV reported.

"I demand all prosecutors across the country to get involved and the approach should be strong," he said.

Rouhani also stressed Monday that Iran "has seen many similar events and passed them easily."

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting in support of the protesters, continued into the New Year, describing Iran as "failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration."

"The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years," he wrote. "They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!"

While some have shared Trump's tweets, many in Iran distrust him because he has refused to re-certify the nuclear deal and his travel bans have blocked Iranians from getting U.S. visas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the protesters "brave" and "heroic," said in a video posted to YouTube on Monday that the protesters sought freedom, justice and "the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades."

He criticized the Iranian regime's response to the protests and also chided European governments for watching "in silence" as the protests turn violent.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a statement late Monday saying "there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising and we look to the Iranian authorities to permit this."

"We regret the loss of life that has occurred in the protests in Iran, and call on all concerned to refrain from violence and for international obligations on human rights to be observed," he said.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also said in a statement that "after the confrontation of the past days it is all the more important for all sides to refrain from violent action." Both countries were part of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran's economy has improved since the nuclear deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars' worth of Western aircraft.

That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which the government has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.

It wasn't immediately clear if the Guard would change its posture given the reported attacks on police stations and military bases. In Tehran on Monday, streets were calm, though a heavy police presence was noticeable.

Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri , the Guard commander and deputy chief of staff for Iran's military, said Monday that Trump's support of the protesters "indicates planning by the U.S. for launching a new sedition in Iran."

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Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi reported this story in Tehran and AP writer Jon Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.


Q&A: What's happening with Iran's ongoing protests?

By JON GAMBRELL ,  Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran has seen its largest anti-government protests since the disputed presidential election in 2009, with thousands taking to the streets in several cities in recent days.

Travel restrictions and moves by the government to shut down social media networks have limited the ability of journalists to cover the ongoing unrest, which reportedly has killed at least 13 people. Here's what we know so far:

HOW DID THE PROTESTS START?

The demonstrations began Thursday in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city and the home of a famous Shiite shrine. The city is a conservative bastion and a stronghold of Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric who unsuccessfully challenged President Hassan Rouhani in last year's election. Analysts suggest conservatives began the protests there as a means to pressure Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric within Iran's theocratic government. The protests then rapidly spread throughout the rest of the country of 80 million people.

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WHAT DO PROTESTERS WANT?

Demonstrators initially focused on Iran's flagging economy. Despite now being able to sell oil on the international market after the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran faces rising inflation and high unemployment. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have sparked the protests. Protesters have chanted against Rouhani as well as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Some have criticized Iran's military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while others have praised the U.S.-backed shah, who fled into exile just before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and died of cancer the following year.

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WHO IS LEADING THE PROTESTS?

So far, no central leadership has emerged. That's in contrast to the 2009 Green Movement demonstrations, which protested hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election amid widespread allegations of voter fraud. Those protests, Iran's biggest since 1979, prompted a crackdown by Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates that saw thousands detained, dozens killed and others tortured. Its leaders remain under house arrest years later. While leaderless, these new protests have been fanned in part by an exiled journalist named Roohallah Zam using a mobile phone messaging app called Telegram .

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HOW HAS THE GOVERNMENT RESPONDED?

Iran says it temporarily shut down access to both Telegram and the photo-sharing app Instagram to "maintain peace," limiting protesters' ability to share images and publicize rallies. Facebook and Twitter are already banned. Uniformed and plainclothes police are in the streets, as are motorcycle-riding members of the Basij, a volunteer force under the Revolutionary Guard that helped carry out the 2009 crackdown. Rouhani himself has said Iran allows protests, and authorities often tolerate smaller, limited demonstrations and labor strikes. But Rouhani and other officials have warned that the government won't hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers.

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HAS THERE BEEN VIOLENCE?

At least 13 people have been reported killed so far. Iranian state television said Monday that security forces repelled "armed protesters" who tried to take over police stations and military bases, without elaborating. Pictures published by semi-official Iranian news agencies have shown water cannons being used on protesters in Tehran, as well as damage done by demonstrators to public property. Several hundred people reportedly have been arrested, though police say they've released many. Some videos circulated online show protesters welcoming police officers and demonstrating peacefully. At least one police officer has been reportedly killed by an armed protester.

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HOW HAS THE WORLD REACTED?

U.S. President Donald Trump has tweeted several times in support of the protests. The State Department has accused Iran's leaders of turning "a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos." Rouhani has dismissed Trump's criticisms, while many Iranians remain angry with the American president over his travel bans barring them from getting U.S. visas, as well as his refusal to re-certify the nuclear deal. Both Britain and Germany, which took part in the nuclear deal, have called for Iran to allow peaceful protests. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime foe of Iran's government, has called the protesters "brave" and "heroic."

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IS IRAN A DEMOCRACY?

Iran describes itself as an Islamic Republic. Elected representatives pass laws and govern on behalf of their constituencies. However, the supreme leader has the final say on all state matters. The Guardian Council, a 12-member panel half selected by the supreme leader and half nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament, must approve all laws. The council also approves all presidential and parliamentary candidates, barring anyone who challenges the political system itself or advocates dramatic reform. Security forces answering only to the supreme leader, like the Revolutionary Guard, routinely arrest dual nationals and foreigners, using them as pawns in international negotiations.

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WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

Demonstrators have called for more protests in the days ahead. While Rouhani has said the government allows demonstrations, all so far have been held without police permission, which is illegal. Ultimately, the supreme leader will decide how to respond. As Cliff Kupchan at the Eurasia Group wrote in an analysis Sunday: "When it comes to regime survival, Khamenei calls the shots. And he's got a lot of loyal and ruthless troops at his disposal."

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