Iranian security forces have staged a show of force in a northwestern ethnic Kurdish city where shop workers have been on a general strike for 18 days.
Baneh residents who spoke to VOA Persian by phone said hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops were deployed in the city on Wednesday, alongside special police forces. They said the mass deployment — the first since the strike began on April 15 — was meant to intimidate shopkeepers into going back to work.
Residents have kept the vast majority of Baneh's thousands of shops closed in protest against the Iranian government's blockade of border footpaths they use to carry in goods from Iraqi Kurdistan.
WATCH: Baneh Stores Stay Shut During Strike
Baneh's economy is heavily reliant on such imports. Residents have few ways to make a living beyond carrying Iraqi goods into Iran as porters, also known as kolbars, and selling those goods in local stores.
Baneh activists who typically communicate with VOA Persian via social media have been unable to do so since late Tuesday, because of what they say is an internet blackout imposed by the authorities. They said IRGC troops forced residents to open around 100 stores on Wednesday, while detaining about 20 pro-strike activists and releasing about 40 others, whom they ordered to sign pledges renouncing the strike.
Local activists also said the police commander of Kurdistan province in which Baneh is located, General Masoud Khoram Nia, also visited Baneh on Wednesday to urge residents to end the strike.
But the activists said most people in Baneh stayed home and continued the general strike, which has been unprecedented in the region for its length.
Iranian authorities have made no commitments to reopen the border footpaths. One local official said last month that the blockade was an Iraqi initiative, but locals have put the blame on Tehran.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian service. Michael Lipin reported from Washington.