Advertisement

Iran holds pro-government rallies after days of protest

Click to play video: 'Iran holds pro-government rallies after six days of protests' Iran holds pro-government rallies after six days of protests
WATCH ABOVE: Thousands take to the streets across Iran in pro-government rallies – Jan 3, 2018

Tens of thousands of Iranians took part in pro-government demonstrations in several cities across the country on Wednesday, Iranian state media reported, a move apparently seeking to calm nerves after a week of protests and unrest that have killed at least 21 people.

While the rallies showed support among Iran’s 80 million people for its clerically overseen government, smaller and smaller towns in the Iranian countryside appear to be experiencing the unrest that has already swept through urban areas, according to protesters’ online videos.

READ MORE: Iran protests, deadly clashes revive debate on Canada’s ties with country

Official and semi-official media did not immediately offer new details of the unrest Wednesday. Demonstrators’ videos corresponded with The Associated Press reporting from outside of Iran, though individual protesters themselves remain unreachable. The protests for now also appear to remain leaderless.

Story continues below advertisement

The protests, the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, began on Dec. 28 in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city and a bastion for hard-liners. While initially focusing on Iran’s flagging economy and rising food prices, they’ve morphed into demands for wholesale change in Iran’s theocratic government.

WATCH: At least 21 killed in Iran’s anti-government protests

Click to play video: 'At least 21 killed in Iran’s anti-government protests' At least 21 killed in Iran’s anti-government protests
At least 21 killed in Iran’s anti-government protests – Jan 2, 2018

On Wednesday, state TV reported that demonstrations took place in dozens of cities and towns, including Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, the Kurdish town of Kermanshah in the country’s west and Qom, the religions capital of Shiite Islam in Iran.

Demonstrators carried pre-printed signs and Iranian flags, with state TV offering a swooping helicopter shot in Ahvaz to show their scale. Ahvaz and the wider Khuzestan province is home to many ethnic Arabs and has seen unrest amid the protests.

Story continues below advertisement

In Qom, state TV cameras focused on the Shiite clerics taking part, many wearing the black turbans identifying them as direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

READ MORE: Why thousands of Iranians are protesting against the government

The English-language Press TV broadcast Wednesday’s pro-government rallies live, saying they sought to “protest the violence that has taken place over the last few nights in cities.” State TV said in Farsi that the demonstrations served as an “answer to the protests” by “servants of the U.S.” as the pro-government demonstrators called the protesters.

WATCH: Anti-government protesters set fire outside base of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard

Click to play video: 'Anti-government protesters set fire outside base of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard' Anti-government protesters set fire outside base of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard
Anti-government protesters set fire outside base of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – Jan 3, 2018

The rallies come after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday blamed days of protests across the country on meddling by “enemies of Iran.”

Story continues below advertisement

“Look at the recent days’ incidents,” Khamenei said. “All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have utilized various means, including money, weapons, politics and (the) intelligence apparatus, to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution.”

WATCH: Iran’s supreme leader says enemies have stirred unrest in country

Click to play video: 'Iran’s supreme leader says enemies have stirred unrest in country' Iran’s supreme leader says enemies have stirred unrest in country
Iran’s supreme leader says enemies have stirred unrest in country – Jan 2, 2018

Khamenei avoided identifying any foreign countries, although he promised to elaborate in the coming days. Undoubtedly high on his list is the United States, where President Donald Trump has tweeted his support for the protests for several days. Some demonstrators carried signs showing Trump’s face covered with a bright red “X.”

Iran’s government has since shut down access to Telegram and the photo-sharing app Instagram, which now join Facebook and Twitter in being banned, in an attempt to slow the unrest.

Story continues below advertisement

The Trump administration called on Iran’s government to stop blocking Instagram and other popular social media sites. U.S. Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said Instagram, Telegram and other platforms are “legitimate avenues for communication.”

READ MORE: Iranian protesters attack police stations as Trump, Netanyahu voice support

The head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court also reportedly has warned that arrested protesters could potentially face the death penalty.

“Obviously one of their charges can be Moharebeh,” or waging war against God, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Mousa Ghazanfarabadi as saying. Moharebeh is punishable by death in Iran.

Later Wednesday, Turkish officials said Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he hopes the protests that have hit Iran “will end in a couple of days.” Officials in Erdogan’s office said the two had a telephone conversation on Wednesday during which Erdogan stressed the importance of stability and calm.

Story continues below advertisement

A statement from Rouhani’s office quoted the president as saying: “Iranian police’s wise, calming presence in recent limited unrest indicates that we fully trust the security and stability in our country.”

However, activist video showed unrest in Noor Abad, in Lorestan province, some 360 kilometers (225 miles) southwest of Tehran.

Demonstrators in the video are seen coming to the aid of another protester, who appears seriously wounded. They later set fire to an ambulance in anger over what they describe as the local hospital’s refusal to treat their wounded.

Sponsored content