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Protests Enter Second Week As Iran Accuses U.S. Of Meddling In Its Affairs

A heavy police presence in Tehran

Antigovernment protests have entered a second week across Iran as Tehran accused the United States of meddling in its domestic affairs after U.S. President Donald Trump offered to support the protesters "at the appropriate time."

With the government blocking social-media websites to disrupt the spread of information about the protests, it was unclear if the January 4 demonstrations were smaller than in the previous six days.

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The antigovernment protests, in which at least 22 people have been killed and more than 1,000 were reportedly arrested, are the strongest challenge to Iran’s leadership in almost a decade.

Videos from Tehran, Kazeroun, Malayer, Nowshahr, and other cities appeared to show rallies against the country’s leadership, though RFE/RL could not independently verify the date and authenticity of the reports.

The protests, which began over economic hardships suffered by Iran’s young and working class, have evolved into an uprising against the powers and privileges of a remote elite, especially Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi urged her countrymen to press on with the nationwide protests in an interview published on January 4 by the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

"If the government has not listened to you for 38 years, your role has come to ignore what the government says to you now," the newspaper quoted the London-based human rights lawyer and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner as saying.

While the intensity of the uprising on the streets has appeared to ease, it has heated up in diplomatic quarters.

In a letter to the UN Security Council late on January 3, Tehran's ambassador to the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo, accused the U.S. government of stepping up “its acts of intervention in a grotesque way in Iran's internal affairs under the pretext of providing support for sporadic protests."

Khoshroo charged that the United States had violated international law and the principles of the UN charter and urged countries to condemn Washington's statements.

"The president and vice president of the United States, in their numerous absurd tweets, incited Iranians to engage in disruptive acts," Khoshroo said in the letter addressed to the Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"The U.S. Department of State went so far as admitting that the U.S. government wants to encourage protesters in Iran to change their government, admitting that the U.S. is engaged in interfering with the internal affairs of Iran through Facebook and Twitter," he wrote.

The letter was released after Trump pledged to help Iranians "take back" their government and the White House weighed imposing sanctions on those involved in the crackdown against demonstrators.

Trump has issued Twitter statements several times in support of the protesters, including a tweet on January 3 that said he respected “the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government.”

“You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!" Trump wrote in the post.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence backed up Trump's tweets, telling Iranians that they should view the United States as a "natural ally" in their quest for freedom and democracy.

"My goal…really my prayer, is that the people of Iran -- a youthful population, a well-educated population -- understand that the United States of America, the people of this country, are their natural ally. We want to see them achieve a free and democratic future. We want to see them step away from a regime that continues to menace the world," he was quoted as saying in a January 3 interview with Voice of America.

The United States has also sought a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the Iranian protests and possibly consider imposing new sanctions on Iran.

"We want to help amplify the voices of the Iranian people," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in calling for UN action.

Government Supporters Shown On Iran's Streets In Wake Of Protests
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The UN council has yet to decide on the U.S. request for a special meeting on the protests. Diplomats said Russia and China, among other countries, are expected to oppose taking action on Iran.

U.S. media, citing Trump administration officials, reported on January 3 that the United States is considering imposing new sanctions on Iran over the crackdown.

As U.S. officials urged support for the protesters, European leaders urged caution. French President Emmanuel Macron said the tone of comments about the protests coming out of Washington, Israel, and Saudi Arabia is "almost one that would lead us to war."

The protests, which started in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, began with crowds in cities across Iran airing grievances over the rising cost of food and other necessities, but quickly spread to expressions of anger against the government.

Early on January 3, Tehran organized a massive counterdemonstration with thousands of people pouring into the streets to voice their support for the government.

While many of the antigovernment protesters had voiced opposition to Khamenei, with some chanting "Death to the dictator," the counterdemonstrators chanted their support for the supreme leader, saying, “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader” and “We will not leave our leader alone.”

The counterdemonstrations came as Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, declared on January 3 that "today, we can announce the end of the sedition” and said that "the number of trouble-makers did not exceed 15,000 people nationwide."

Jafari said his forces have been deployed to Isfahan, Lorestan, and Hamadan provinces to deal with the protests, which are the biggest challenge to authorities in Tehran since pro-reform unrest in 2009.

While the country’s oil sector has been boosted by a nuclear deal with the West that lifted international sanctions, most ordinary Iranians haven't seen their situation improve because other parts of the economy continue to stagnate.

Inflation and unemployment, especially among younger Iranians, are on the rise.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said during a telephone call on January 3 with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he hoped the antigovernment protests would end soon.

In a sign of a continued warming of relations between Turkey and its once bitter rival Iran, Erdogan told Rohani that while "peace and stability" had to be preserved, he also agreed that the right to protest should not lead to "violations of the law."

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari, Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and Press TV