At least 9 killed as Iran protests spread over woman’s death

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angry over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since violence erupted over the weekend, according to a tally Thursday. by the Associated Press.

The extent of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, remains unclear as protesters in at least a dozen cities – venting anger over social repression and the country’s mounting crises – continue to face security forces and paramilitaries.

An anchor on Iran’s state television suggested the death toll from the mass protests could be as high as 17 on Thursday, but did not elaborate or say how he arrived at that number. “Unfortunately, 17 people and police officers present at the scene of these events lost their lives,” the anchor said, adding that official statistics would be released later.

Widespread outcomes of Instagram and WhatsApp, which protesters use to share information about the government’s rolling crackdown on dissent, continued Thursday. Authorities also appeared to disrupt Internet access to the outside world, a tactic rights activists say the government often uses in times of unrest.

In a country where radio and television stations are already state-controlled and journalists regularly face the threat of arrest, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Thursday called on the judiciary to prosecute “anyone who spreads false news and rumours” on social media about the unrest.

That demonstrations in Iran began as an emotional outburst over the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly enforced dress code. Her death has sparked sharp condemnation from the USA, the EU and the UN.

Police say she died of a heart attack and was not abused, but her family has cast doubt on that account. Independent experts attached to the United Nations said on Thursday that reports indicated she was severely beaten by morality police without providing evidence. They called for an impartial investigation to hold the perpetrators accountable.

The protests have grown in the past four days into an open challenge to the government, with women removing and burning their state-mandated headscarves in the streets and Iranians setting trash cans on fire and calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself.

“Death to the dictator!” has been a common cry in the protests.

Demonstrations have rocked university campuses in Tehran and far-flung western cities such as Kermanshah. Although the unrest is widespread, it appears to be separate from previous rounds of nationwide protests sparked by purse strings as Iran’s economy falters under heavy U.S. sanctions.

The unrest that broke out in 2019 over the government’s steep hike in petrol prices mobilized working-class masses in small towns. Hundreds were killed as security forces cracked down on what rights groups said was the deadliest violence since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran’s state-run media this week reported demonstrations by hundreds of people in at least 13 cities, including the capital, Tehran. Videos online show security forces firing tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protests. London-based Amnesty International reported that officers also fired birdshot and metal bullets and beat protesters with batons.

Footage on social media from the northern city of Tabriz showed a young man reportedly shot by security forces bleeding in the street as protesters shouted for help.

At least nine people have died in the clashes, according to an AP count based on statements from Iran’s state-run and semi-official media. In a statement Thursday, the Guard blamed the unrest on “Iran’s enemies” and said their “insurgency will fail.”

In Amini’s home province of northwestern Kurdistan, the provincial police chief said four protesters were killed by live fire. In Kermanshah, the prosecutor said two protesters were killed by opposition groups and insisted the bullets were not fired by Iran’s security forces.

Some protesters appear to have attacked security forces. Three men linked to the Basij, a vigilante volunteer force, were killed in clashes in the cities of Shiraz, Tabriz and Mashhad, semi-official media reported, bringing the death toll acknowledged by officials to at least nine on both sides.

In Mashhad, the state-run IRNA agency reported that a policeman was hospitalized with severe burns after protesters tried to set him on fire.

The independent experts with the United Nations said the clashes have killed at least eight people by their count, including a woman and 16-year-old boy, with dozens more wounded and arrested.

The clashes have left a trail of destruction. In Mazandaran province, along the coast of the Caspian Sea, angry mobs have damaged or set fire to more than 40 government properties and injured 76 security officers, Rouhollah Solgi, the deputy governor, said on Thursday.

As the protests spread, authorities shut down the internet in parts of the country, according to NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, describing the restrictions as the most severe since mass protests in November 2019.

Iran has struggled with recent waves of protests, mainly over a protracted economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions related to its nuclear program. Iranians also blame government corruption and mismanagement as prices of basic goods rise, the currency depreciates and unemployment remains high.

The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Iran curbed its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions, but negotiations have been deadlocked for months.

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