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Conservatives Condemn Protests But Seem Not To have A Clear Plan

Iranian students clash with riot police during an anti-government protest around the University of Tehran, Iran, 30 December 2017

As nationwide protests in Iran saw their most violent night so far on January 1, the country's leaders are either hesitating to declare a united front or have no unified plan of action for confronting the unrest.

Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei finally had a short reaction to the unrest on Tuesday, blaming “foreign intelligence services”.

His close allies, including the head of the judiciary and the editor-in-chief of daily Kayhan, had already reacted, decrying the “rioters” and calling upon the Iranian people to distance themselves from the “insurgents.”

State-run TV, supervised directly by the supreme leader, aired belligerent comments by Sadeq Amoli Larijani, head of the judiciary and a mid-ranking cleric.

“Those who carry out acts of sabotage, riot, and unrest, and set fire to public and private venues and properties, should be dealt with strongly,” he said.

Larijani ordered officials across the country to immediately prosecute those responsible for vandalizing public property.

Earlier, in an unprecedented mild comment, the head of Mashhad's Revolutionary Court, Hossein Haydari, had admitted, "We consider protest to be the people's right, but if some people want to abuse these emotions and surf this wave, we won't wait and will confront them."

In many restive cities across Iran, Larijani was one of the main targets of protesters' chants.

Kayhan Editor-in-Chief Hossein Shariatmadari branded the protesters as “Islamic State refuse.” In an editorial on January 1, he described the demonstrators as “a handful of agitators” whose “most courageous stunt is setting garbage cans on fire and vandalizing traffic barriers.”

Without any reference to the reasons that forced people to pour onto the streets, he praised an official demonstration held on December 31, cautioning, “The message was clear: Wrap up these agitators’ shenanigans.”

It seems the hardliners think that the protests have not reached a critical stage yet and hope some use of force can buy time until perhaps a way is found.

In some provinces and small cities however, the unrest became so dangerous that security forces fired on demonstrators. The death toll has increased to more than 20.

But in the capital, Tehran security forces have mainly resorted to blocking tactics to prevent large crowds to congregate and using tear gas and water cannons. There have been no reports of deaths in Tehran.