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Two More Killed In Iranian Antigovernment Protests As Unrest Enters Fifth Day

In Tehran, a water canon is used in Ferdowsi Square in an attempt to disperse demonstrators on December 31.

Two more protesters have been killed after a fourth night of antigovernment demonstrations in Iran as the authorities attempted to quell the unrest with strong warnings and by blocking popular social-media applications and disrupting some Internet services.

The semiofficial ILNA news agency quoted Hedayat Allah Khademi, a local member of parliament, as saying on January 1 that the two were shot dead during antigovernment protests at night on December 31.

"People of Izeh, like some other cities, held a protest against economic problems and unfortunately it led to the killing of two people and injuries to some others," Khademi told ILNA.

"I do not know yet whether last night's shooting was by the protesters or by police," he added.

Iranian state TV reported that the death toll from four days of antigovernment protests had reached 10 people, though it did not give any details on the figure in the January 1 report.

Khademi's announcement comes after two protesters were killed on December 30 in the western town of Doroud. In addition, hundreds have been arrested as the protests entered a fifth day on January 1.

Actions on the streets of Tehran and other cities, including Sanandaj, Mashhad, Ilam, Khoramdareh, and Kermanshah, have marked the biggest challenge to the authorities since violent demonstrations erupted after a disputed election handed Mahmud Ahmadinejad a second presidential term in 2009.

President Hassan Rohani said on December 31 that citizens were "absolutely free" to criticize the authorities and protest, but he warned against violence amid unrest that was sparked by a surge in prices of basic food supplies, such as eggs and poultry.

U.S. President Donald Trump continued to voice backing for protesters, calling out the authorities for having "closed down the Internet" and accusing them of violating the rights of those demonstrating on the streets

"Iran, the Number One State of Sponsored Terror with numerous violations of Human Rights occurring on an hourly basis, has now closed down the Internet so that peaceful demonstrators cannot communicate. Not good!" Trump wrote on Twitter on December 31.

Rohani, in his first public remarks since the start of the protests, said Iranians have the right to protest, but he warned that those demonstrations should not make the public "feel concerned about their lives and security."

"The people are absolutely free in expressing their criticisms and even protests," Rohani said at a cabinet meeting, according to state-run Press TV.

"But criticism is different from violence and destroying public property," he added.

He also acknowledged the public's worries extend beyond the economy to corruption allegations and government transparency.

The initial protests quickly spread to many cities where hundreds of protesters have been chanting slogans against the Islamic establishment and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Video and other information on social media showed protests taking place on December 31 in the capital, Tehran, and other cities, although crowd sizes were unclear.

Video footage appeared to show police in Tehran using water cannon to disperse demonstrators gathering in Ferdowsi Square in the center of the capital.

Officials said on December 31 that some 200 protesters in Tehran had been arrested the previous day.

Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have blocked popular social-media websites.

Users of the social networks Instagram and Telegram were unable to access the services on December 31.

Both applications are popular among Iranians and useful in helping set up gathering points for demonstrators who are disappointed with rising prices and Rohani’s unfulfilled promises to guarantee rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

The United States has condemned the arrest of protesters, with Trump cheering on the protesters via Twitter.

Trump tweeted on December 31 that it looks like the Iranians "will not take it any longer," adding, "The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!"

Rohani criticized Trump over his tweets, saying he "has forgotten that he had called Iranian people 'terrorists' a few months ago."

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also commented on the upheaval in Iran, saying Iran's government is "being tested by its own citizens."

"We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day," she said in a statement on December 31.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli warned earlier on December 31 that protesters who create unrest "are responsible for their actions and should pay the price."

The hard-line Revolutionary Guards and its Basij militia -- which led the crackdown against the 2009 protests -- have so far appeared to stay away from the demonstrations. However, in a statement carried by state media, it said, "The Iranian nation...will not allow the country to be hurt."

With reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa