DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s parliament speaker warned on Sunday that protests over the death of a young woman in police custody could destabilize the country and urged security forces to deal harshly with those they say him, endanger public order, while nationwide unrest third week.
Scattered anti-government protests appeared to erupt in Tehran and clashes with security forces in other cities, social media reported on Sunday, even as the government moved to partially or fully block internet connectivity in Iran.
Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf told lawmakers that unlike the current protests, which he says are aimed at overthrowing the government, previous protests by teachers and pensioners over wages were aimed at reforms, according to the legislature’s website.
“The important point of the (past) protests was that they were aimed at reforming and not overthrowing” the system, Qalibaf said. “I ask all those who have (reasons to) protest not to let their protest turn into destabilization and overthrow” of institutions.
Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets over the past two weeks to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by Iranian morality police in the capital, Tehran, for failing to allegedly not adhered to the strict Islamic dress of Iran. coded.
Protesters have expressed anger over the treatment of women and wider repression in the Islamic Republic. Nationwide protests quickly turned into calls for the overthrow of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian state television reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began on September 17. An Associated Press tally of official statements by authorities put at least 14 people dead, with more than 1,500 protesters arrested.
Qalibaf, the Speaker of Parliament, is an influential former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard paramilitaries. Along with the president and the head of the judiciary, he is one of the three senior officials who deal with all important matters of the nation.
The three meet regularly and occasionally meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state.
Qalibaf said he believed many of those who took part in the recent protests had no intention of seeking to overthrow the government at first and claimed that opposition groups based abroad were fomenting protests aimed at tear down the system. Iranian authorities have not presented evidence of their allegations of foreign involvement in the protests.
“Creating chaos in the streets will weaken social integrity, jeopardize the economy while increasing enemy pressure and sanctions,” he said, referring to long-standing crippling US sanctions against Iran.
Qalibaf promised to “change the structures and methods of the morality police” to prevent what happened to Amini from happening again. The young woman died in the custody of the vice squad. Her family claimed she was beaten, while authorities say she died of a heart attack.
His remarks came after a closed meeting of parliament and a brief gathering of lawmakers to voice support for Khamenei and the police, chanting “death to the hypocrites”, a reference to Iranian opposition groups.
Qalibaf’s statement is seen as a call for Iranians to end their protests while supporting the police and security apparatus.
Meanwhile, the radical daily Kayhan said on Sunday that protesters armed with knives attacked the newspaper’s building on Saturday and smashed windows with rocks. He said they left when members of the Guard were deployed to the site.
Protests continued on the Tehran University campus and nearby neighborhoods on Saturday, and witnesses said they saw scores of young girls waving their headscarves above their heads in a gesture of defiance. Social media circulated videos purportedly showing similar protests at universities in Mashhad and Shiraz, but The Associated Press could not independently verify their authenticity.
A protester near Tehran University, Fatemeh, 19, who gave only her first name for fear of repercussions, said she joined the protest ‘to end this behavior of the police against young people , especially girls.
Abdolali, a 63-year-old teacher who also declined to give his surname, said he was shot twice in the foot by police. He said: “I am here to accompany and support my daughter. I once participated in the 1979 Islamic revolution which promised justice and freedom; it is time to materialize them.
Protests resumed on Sunday in several cities, including Mashhad, according to social media, and Sharif Industrial University in Tehran, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency. Witnesses said security was tightened in areas near Tehran University and its downtown neighborhoods as hundreds of riot and plainclothes police with their cars and motorbikes were stationed at crossroads and on the squares. The AP could not immediately verify the authenticity of the reports.
Also on Sunday, media reported the death of another member of the Revolutionary Guards in the southeastern city of Zahedan. This brought to five the number of WRI members killed in an attack on a police station by gunmen which state media said left 19 people dead.
It was unclear whether the attack, which Iranian authorities said was carried out by separatists, was linked to the anti-government protests.
Local media said a policeman also died in the Kurdish town of Marivan, following injuries in clashes with protesters. The protests have drawn supporters from various ethnic groups, including Kurdish opposition movements in northwestern Iran that operate along the border with neighboring Iraq. Amini, 22, was an Iranian Kurd and the protests first broke out in Kurdish areas.