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Iran Calls Off Anti-Israeli Qods Day Rallies Amid Fears Of Coronavirus

Iran's missiles displayed during Qods Day ceremonies in Tehran in 2017. FILE PHOTO

Iran has cancelled the anti-Israeli Qods Day rallies planned for the last Friday of Ramadan, said a statement by the Islamic Propagation Council on Sunday May 17.

The statement added that a speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be the only program planned for the May 22 and that no other related event will take place anywhere in Iran on that day.

The announcement effectively annulled previous plans by the IRGC to mark the day with rallies in cars rather than marching in the streets. The announcement did not mention any reason for the decision which is likely to have been made to curb further spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Three weeks after easing lockdown regulations and introducing “smart social distancing” in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday May 16 that Tehran is in a state of red alert due to more coronavirus cases, and offered a guideline to limit Qods Day rallies and Eid al-Fitr celebrations to around 200 cities where the outbreak is said to be on a descending curve.

The president blamed "lack of coordination" as the culprit for the surge in the COVID-19 outbreak and called for more accord between health institutions.

Nevertheless, Rouhani once again talked about "foreign media's conspiracy" and charged that "they wanted to shut down the country and disrupt its security, but we resisted against them." Mindless of the global nature of the pandemic, he had said in April that the Ministry of Intelligence has "detailed documents" about a "counter-revolutionary conspiracy."

By referring to foreign media, Islamic Republic officials are pointing out foreign-based Persian broadcasters, such as the BBC, Radio Farda or Iran International TV.

Rouhani has been insisting on the reopening of businesses and "normalization" of the situation since April while some health officials and media criticized him for the risks involved.

Nonetheless, on Saturday Rouhani called on the Ministry of Health to issue "very strict and clear guidelines" about the reopening.

Currently even schools have been reopened in Iran, and all teachers report to work, but the students' parents are free decide whether to send their children to school. The universities are to reopen later in June. Reports on social media indicate most children stay home.

Meanwhile, the outbreak has also affected political developments, as Rouhani's guideline about the Qods Day rallies reveal. He said on Saturday that Qods Day can take place in over 200 Iranian cities where the situation of the outbreak has been declared as "white" (all clear). However, in the capital Tehran, there will be no usual marches. Instead, people may take part in motorized rallies in their cars.

The anti-Israeli Qods Day marked on the last Friday of Ramadan has always been significant for the Islamic Republic since it was first introduced by Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini in the 1980s and the regime in Tehran has been using it as an indication of its popularity and legitimacy.

It is still not clear if Qods Day public events will be cancelled in other countries, such as Iraq and Lebanon where the Islamic Republic holds sway.

The new announcement about cancelling all public events this year is unprecedented since Ayatollah Khomeini introduced the Qods Day in 1980s. Thise is the first time in 40 years that no public events will take place.

During the past week there have been several reports which said there was a renewed surge in the outbreak in some Iranian provinces including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Sistan-Baluchestan and East Azarbaijan.

Speaking on the controversial issue of reopening religious shrines and sites, Rouhani said on May 16 that for the time being only the courtyard of holy shrines will be open to pilgrims three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon.

This comes while soccer matches will resume without spectators. Social media users have been teasing Rouhani saying it is as if the virus differentiates between religious and athletic places and treats those present differently.

In another controversial remark, Rouhani said that "Even if there is another surge in the COVID-19 outbreak in the summer, we must have left the peak of the outbreak behind by then," adding, "Part of the population has developed some kind of resistance to the virus while our medical staff are better skilled now."

Meanwhile, in his latest news conference on Sunday, Health Ministry Spokesman said that 800 new COVID-19 cases have been registered in Iran during the past day but the number of deaths was 51.

He said so far 120,000 Iranians have contracted COVID-19 and almost 7,000 have died as a result of the outbreak.

Iran’s official pandemic numbers are viewed with scepticism even among state institutions. A parliamentary study early on said infections may be ten times higher than official figures.