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U.S., Europe Condemn 'Unacceptable' Loss Of Life In Iranian Protests

Tehran Residents Share Economic Grievances Amid Protests
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WATCH: Some residents of Tehran described their financial struggles as days of antiestablishment protests took place in dozens of towns and cities across Iran.

European leaders have joined the United States in condemning what they called an "unacceptable loss of human lives" in nationwide protests in Iran and called on Tehran to allow peaceful protesters to freely express their grievances.

French President Emmanuel Macron and EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini appealed to Tehran late on January 2 after the death of at least 22 people and arrest of more than 450 in six days of protests across Iran in the past week.

Macron's office said he expressed concern about the number of casualties in a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rohani and urged "restraint and appeasement" toward the protesters.

"Fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate, must be respected," Macron said.

Rohani's office said he asked Macron to take action against a Paris-based Iranian opposition group called Mujahedin-e Khalq (aka the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran), which he accused of fomenting the protests.

Macron's office did not mention the Iranian resistance group, which issued a statement saying Iran's clerical rulers were "panicking" in the face of the widespread protests.

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini (file photo)
EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini (file photo)

Mogherini in a statement late on January 2 deplored what she called "the unacceptable loss of human lives" in the protests and called on Tehran to "refrain from violence."

"Peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights that apply to every country, and Iran is no exception," she said she told Iranian authorities.

The statements by European leaders came after a day during which Iran and the United States traded barbs over the protests, with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump saying it will raise Iran's handling of the protests before the United Nations.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley praised the courage of the demonstrators and rejected claims by Iran's leadership that the protests were organized by "Iran's enemies" and driven by outside forces.

Speaking on January 2 to reporters at UN headquarters in New York, Haley said Washington would seek emergency meetings of the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to address the killing of protesters in Iran by police and government forces.

"We must not be silent," Haley said. "The people of Iran are crying out for freedom."

"It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice against their government, especially when their government has a long history of murdering its own people who dare to speak the truth," Haley said.

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks on the floor of the General Assembly in New York last month.
Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks on the floor of the General Assembly in New York last month.

"Now the Iranian dictatorship is trying to do what it always does, which is to say that the protests were designed by Iran's enemies. We all know that's complete nonsense," Haley said.

"The demonstrations are completely spontaneous. They are virtually in every city in Iran. This is the precise picture of a long-oppressed people rising up against their dictators."

In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iranians already enjoy the right to peaceful protest and asserted that the same freedom to demonstrate is denied to citizens of some U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Earlier on January 2, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Tehran's "enemies" of fomenting antigovernment demonstrations in the biggest challenge to the authorities in almost a decade.

In his first comments since the outbreak of protests on December 28, Khamenei accused the "enemies of Iran" of meddling in the country's affairs through their "money, weapons, politics, and intelligence services."

"The enemy is always looking for an opportunity & any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation," he was quoted as saying in a post on his official website.

Iran's reformist politicians also blamed the violence on "the enemies of Iran."

A statement on January 2 by the Association of Religious Combatants, a group headed by reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, said that "opportunists and troublemakers have exploited the demonstrations to create problems."

The statement said "the United States and their agents...have encouraged the troublemakers and the violent actions."

IRAN LIVE BLOG: Keep up with all the developments as they happen

In a message on Twitter, Trump on January 2 praised the protesters for “acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.”

"The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!" he added.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi responded by saying that Trump should focus on "homeless and hungry people" in his own country rather than "sending useless and insulting tweets."

Video posted on social media showed demonstrators attacking a police station in the central town of Qahderijan.

Amateur Video Said To Show Attack On Iran Police Station
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State TV reported on January 2 that six of the nine killed overnight were attempting to steal weapons during the attack on the town’s police station in Iran's central Isfahan Province, about 350 kilometers south of Tehran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a statement in Tehran on January 2.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a statement in Tehran on January 2.

Tasnim reported the death of a security officer, who the semiofficial news agency said was killed by an armed demonstrator in the central city of Najafabad. If confirmed, it would be the first reported fatality among security forces during the widespread unrest.

Iran's economy has been on the upswing, largely due to a growing oil sector boosted by a nuclear deal with the West, but most other areas have been stagnating, with inflation and unemployment, especially among younger Iranians, on the rise.

Demonstrations were reportedly taking place in dozens of towns and cities throughout Iran, including several places in the capital, Tehran, where the deputy governor, Ali Asgar Naserbakht, said 450 people have been arrested so far.

Iranian President Warns Protesters Against Using Violence
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Other cities where demonstrations have taken place include Sanandaj, Ilam, Khoramdareh, Kermanshah, Izeh, Ahvaz, Shahin Shahr, and Tuyserkan, where at least two protesters were reported killed.

Numerous videos showed some crowds of people chanting "Death to the dictator!" walking through the streets of Tehran.

Video posted by RFE/RL's Radio Farda showed security forces using water cannon to disperse protesters on the central Ferdowsi Square in Tehran.

Other social-media videos from different Iranian cities showed clashes with security forces and a police station set alight. Crowds of marching protesters were shown shouting slogans against mullahs and other religious figures in the country.

Some demonstrators were seen tearing down huge street banners of Khamenei, who has ruled Iran since 1989.

The violence overnight brings the unofficial total to at least 22 dead since the demonstrations -- which started out as rallies against high inflation for basic food products and other economic woes -- began in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad.

Video Shows Protest Scenes Spreading Across Iran
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Unemployment in Iran is about 12 percent but among youth it reached 28.8 percent in 2017.

With younger Iranians better educated than in previous generations, many have grown frustrated by the political and economic constraints that are keeping them from achieving the improved lifestyle they see elsewhere in the world as they interact with peers on social media.

There are signs authorities are ready to crack down harder on those taking to the streets.

The Intelligence Ministry has said that "rioters and instigators" had been identified "and will be dealt with seriously soon," and the head of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, was quoted on January 2 by Tasnim as saying that one of the charges protesters face can be "moharebeh," or waging war against God, which carries the death penalty as a sentence.

Iranian protesters hold anti-Israeli placards at a rally in Tehran on December 30.
Iranian protesters hold anti-Israeli placards at a rally in Tehran on December 30.

The government has also blocked popular social-media application Instagram and a widely used messaging app in Iran called Telegram.

Both applications are 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.

Ali Shamkhani, Iranian Supreme National Security Council secretary, blamed the violence on social media and said some foreign countries were interfering in his country's domestic affairs.

"Hashtags and messages about the situation in Iran come from the United States, Britain, and Saudi Arabia," he said on January 1.

The United States dismissed the accusation on January 2 and called on Tehran to unblock the websites.

"When a nation clamps down on social media or websites or Google or news sites, we ask the question: What are you afraid of?" said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. "We support the Iranian people and we support their voices being heard."

Britain, Germany, Sweden, and Turkey have all expressed concern over the deaths of protesters and urged the Iranian government to respect people's rights.

The harshest criticism has come from the United States. Trump tweeted on January 1 that the upheaval shows Iran is “failing at every level” and that it was “TIME FOR CHANGE!”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on January 1 that the unrest was "Iran's internal affair," adding that any "external interference destabilizing the situation is inadmissible."

Syria also blamed the United States and Israel for destabilizing the region.

"Syria is confident that Iran's leadership, government and people will be able to defeat the conspiracy," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 2.

Iran has been a main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since conflict engulfed the country in 2011.

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