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US, Iranian Leaders Spar Over Week of Protests


People take part in pro-government rallies, Iran, Jan. 3, 2018.

Wednesday in Iran brought demonstrations both against and in support of the government, while the United States promised new support for the Iranian people and Iran’s representative to the United Nations accused the United States of “flagrant acts of intervention.”

The unrest has been going on for a week with protesters rallying against economic problems and also calling for government reforms. At least 21 people have been killed and authorities have arrested hundreds of people.

Iranian state media showed video of the pro-government rallies Wednesday, while videos of protesters in multiple cities spread on social media.

“Today we can announce the end of the 2018 sedition,” Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said on its website, adding that the number of protesters “did not exceed 15,000 people nationwide.” He said the Guard had deployed limited numbers of troops in Isfahan, Larestan and Hamadan.

An opponent of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani chants slogans during a protest outside the European Union Council in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 3, 2018.
An opponent of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani chants slogans during a protest outside the European Union Council in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 3, 2018.

Trump tweets; Iranians fume

U.S. President Donald Trump turned to Twitter to express his latest support for those unhappy with the Iranian government.

“Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government,” Trump said. “You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” It was not immediately clear what assistance Trump had in mind.

Top Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have blamed foreign governments for driving the protests.

Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Gholamali Khoshroo, sent a letter Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council and U.N. chief Antonio Guterres saying that in “numerous absurd tweets” Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence were “inciting Iranians to engage in disruptive acts.”

“The current U.S. administration has crossed every limit in flouting rules and principles of international law governing the civilized conduct of international relations,” Khoshroo wrote.

The U.S. delegation has asked the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the protests, but so far none has been scheduled.

WATCH: Pence: People of the United States Want Iranians to Achieve Democratic Future

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Meanwhile Pence, in an interview with VOA, cited what he called Trump’s “unapologetic willingness” to back the protesters.

“I know it is giving hope to the people on the streets of those cities across that country and we’re going to continue to support them in not just verbally, but as they bring about change in their country, I can assure you the United States and the wider world stands with the people of Iran who want a better and more prosperous and freer future,” he said.

Germany, UN back free speech

Germany, which along with the United States and four other world powers reached an agreement in 2015 with Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, expressed concern about the situation in Iran, while saying people must be given a chance to peacefully protest.

“The right to free speech must be upheld,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said. “We strongly advise against the use of this inner-Iranian conflict — which has its background partly in the economy, partly in politics, which we can understand — to use this conflict internationally.”

In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also emphasized the right of Iranians to have their complaints heard and called for all deaths and serious injuries to be investigated. He urged authorities to “handle the wave of protests that have taken place around the country with great care so as not to further inflame violence and unrest.”

The protests are the biggest outpouring of public discontent with Iran’s clerical leaders since 2009 protests against the results of a disputed presidential election.

James Jeffrey, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former diplomat, said the current unrest is not likely to result in an overthrow of the Iranian government but still amounts to a significant problem.

“The underlying sentiment is broadly shared in the population,” Jeffrey told VOA. “They have no participated in the economic growth of the country, they see their country involved in all of these foreign adventures in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, you name it, and they don’t see any benefit to them of that.”