Iran Hard-liners Rally as New Protests Challenge Government

Protesters chant slogans at a rally in Tehran, Iran on Dec. 30. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Protesters chant slogans at a rally in Tehran, Iran, on Dec. 30. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian hard-liners rallied Saturday to support the country's supreme leader and clerically overseen government, as spontaneous protests sparked by anger over the country's ailing economy roiled major cities in the Islamic Republic.

The demonstrations, commemorating a 2009 rally in support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had been scheduled weeks earlier. However, they took on new importance after the economic protests began Thursday, sparked by social media posts and a surge in prices of basic food supplies, such as eggs and poultry.

Early on Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted out his support for the protests.

"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," he wrote. "Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! (hashtag) IranProtests."

It's unclear what effect Trump's support would have. Iranians already are largely skeptical of him over his refusal to re-certify the nuclear deal. Trump's insistence in an October speech on using the term "Arabian Gulf" in place of the Persian Gulf also has also riled the Iranian public.

The State Department issued a statement Friday supporting the protests. "Iran's leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos," the statement said.

Thousands of protesters have gone into the streets of several cities in Iran, beginning first in Mashhad, the country's second-largest city and a holy site for Shiite pilgrims. Demonstrators also have criticized Iran's government during the protests, with social media videos showing clashes between protesters and police.

The semi-official Fars news agency said protests on Friday also struck Qom, a city that is the world's foremost centre for Shiite Islamic scholarship and home to a major Shiite shrine.

The demonstrations appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since its 2009 Green Movement arose after Ahmadinejad's re-election.

However, information about them remains scarce as both state-run and semi-official media in Iran have not widely reported on the protests. An online report Saturday by Iranian state television said national media in the country hadn't reported on the protests on orders from security officials.

While police have arrested some protesters, the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election. The economic protests initially just put pressure on Rouhani's administration, but purported footage from recent demonstrations have included anti-government chants.

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