Anti-government protests by Iranians fed up with their nation's economic woes have spread to 10 major cities, posing the biggest challenge to Iran's Islamist rulers since January's nationwide demonstrations.
Images and reports sent by citizen journalists in Iran and verified by VOA Persian confirmed that street protests took place on Thursday in the capital, Tehran, and nine other cities: Ahvaz, Hamedan, Isfahan, Karaj, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Shiraz, Urmia and Varamin. Earlier reports from Tuesday and Wednesday showed anti-government demonstrations occurring in, but being limited to, Isfahan and Karaj.
Some citizen journalist reports said Iranian security forces tried to break up the demonstrations with tear gas and by beating and arresting protesters. But, there were no credible reports about how many Iranians were hurt and detained by the authorities.
The Iranian rial's slump to record lows against the dollar in unofficial trading earlier this week appears to have exacerbated many Iranians' frustrations with economic problems such as inflation and joblessness. The dollar's surging value has raised the prices of dollar-denominated imports, making them unaffordable for much of the public.
In a sign of Iranians' frustrations intensifying, the protesters of recent days have chanted slogans explicitly calling for an end to the rule of Iran's Islamist clerics, who took power in a 1979 revolution. Similar but less explicit slogans were chanted during a wave of nationwide protests that erupted in dozens of Iranian cities from late December to early January. That earlier wave of anti-government demonstrations was the most serious that Iran had seen in years.
Tehran protest, Aug. 2
♦️ ویدئو کوتاه | شعار «آخوند باید گم بشه» در چهارراه ولیعصر #تهران در این فیلم ارسالی به صدای آمریکا، معترضان ضمن آتش زدن یک سطل آشغال، شعار میدهند: «توپ، تانک، فشفشه - آخوند باید گم بشه» pic.twitter.com/mN0xfLuGhu— VOA Farsi (@VOAIran) August 2, 2018
On Tehran's Valiasr Street, a main thoroughfare bisecting the capital's eastern and western sectors, protesters set a large container on fire and chanted: "Mullahs, get lost."
Shiraz protest, Aug. 2
In the south-central city of Shiraz, marchers chanted: "This is a bloody month, the mullahs are falling."
Ahvaz protest, Aug. 2
♦️ ویدئو کوتاه | تظاهرات در اهواز با شعار «دشمن ما همینجاست، دروغ میگن آمریکاست» pic.twitter.com/kcnYHNmzNy— VOA Farsi (@VOAIran) August 2, 2018
A large crowd in the southwestern city of Ahvaz chanted: "Our enemy is here; they (Iran's leaders) lie when they say it is America."
Mashhad protest, Aug. 2
♦️ ویدئو کوتاه | تجمع اعتراضی مردم در مشهد با شعار «کاخ نشین حیا کن مملکتو رها کن» pic.twitter.com/ZQsKNpPiwX— VOA Farsi (@VOAIran) August 2, 2018
Elsewhere, a chant used by demonstrators in the northeastern city of Mashhad called for Iranian leaders who currently sit in the "palace" once occupied by Iran's deposed monarch to leave the country.
Iranian state-run media acknowledged but tried to downplay Thursday's protests. The IRNA news agency reported scattered protests in several cities and said police dispersed them early in the evening.
Karaj protest, Aug. 2
But after nightfall, a video clip showed protesters in Karaj, on Tehran's western outskirts, apparently throwing small objects toward security forces, as a man shouted that protesters were under attack.
Iranian state TV network IRTV2 also broadcast reports from the northern cities of Rasht and Semnan, where correspondents said no protests had been held despite calls for such protests on social media.
But residents of Iran, who spoke to VOA Persian on Thursday, said one reason the protests were not happening in more cities was a strong security presence in many places. They said security forces in some areas used social media to find out where protests were being planned and then deployed to those locations ahead of time as a way of deterring demonstrators from showing up.
Iran has seen frequent but scattered nationwide street protests this year involving dozens to hundreds and occasionally thousands of people. Protesters have been venting anger toward local and national officials and business leaders they accuse of mismanagement, corruption and oppression.
Iranian leaders often have deflected the domestic criticism by blaming the unrest on foreign "enemies."
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian service. Michael Lipin and Arash Sigarchi reported from Washington and Ali Javanmardi reported from Irbil, Iraq.