The US has warned Iran to respect people’s right to protest as rare anti-government rallies, which began over the high cost of living, grip cities in the Islamic Republic.
About 300 people protested in Kermanshah, a city in western Iran, on Friday, according to the semi-state news agency Fars. Police there used water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
Protests also broke out in the capital Tehran, according to social media.
US President Donald Trump took to Twitter late on Friday, writing: “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad.
“Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!”His tweet seemed to be an almost word-for-word copy of an earlier post by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who also warned: “The world is watching.”
The US Department of State described the rallies as peaceful.
“Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” it said in a statement. “As President Trump has said, the longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are Iran’s own people.
“The United States strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters. We urge all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”
By the time of publishing, it remained unclear how many protesters had so far been arrested.
‘Iranians will reject US statements’
Some analysts rejected the US’ comments as simply driven by politics.
Trita Parsi, founder and president of the Washington, DC-based National Iranian American Council, said: “The fastest way to discredit these legitimate grievances expressed by the Iranian people, is for Trump to throw himself into the mix.”
Amir Handjani, a New York-based fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, said: “Anything the Trump administration says about Iran (even if it may be remotely credible) will be rejected by the vast majority of Iranians, given his position on a whole host of issues that touch on Iranian prestige and national interests.”
Friday’s demonstrations came after an earlier rally in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, on Thursday drew “thousands” of residents, anti-government activists said on social media.
Rallies were also held in a handful of other cities to decry rising food prices and other economic issues.
Many Iranians do not understand why Iran has invested so heavily in regional foreign policy adventurism to the detriment of Iran’s own internal economic problems.
Nader Hashemi, head of Middle East studies at University of Denver
Nader Hashemi, who heads Middle East studies at the University of Denver, told Al Jazeera that Iranians were frustrated about the lack of accountability from their leaders.
“It’s really the linking of Iran’s regional foreign policy – in Syria in particular – with the economic grievances that many people are feeling,” he told Al Jazeera. “Many Iranians … do not understand why Iran has invested so heavily in regional foreign policy adventurism to the detriment of Iran’s own internal economic problems.”
A large section of society believes thre is “no accountabiility over where money is being spent”, he said.
“The hardline elements of the regime are probably going to blame protests on foreign conspiracies. The real question is what will the Iranian government do and say in the coming days in response [to the protests]?”
Eshaq Jahangiri, first vice president of Iran, has said while some protesters were rallying against high prices, others were set on derailing the government.
“All economic indications in the country are good. Yes, there is an increase in the prices of some products and the government is working on fixing causes of high prices,” he said.
“The people behind what is taking place think they will be able to harm the government. But when social movements and protests start in the street, those who have ignited them are not always able to control them.”
Reports said that thousands marched across cities in support of the government on Saturday, citing state media, to mark the anniversary of the end of “the sedition” – unrest after the 2009 elections. Those rallies had been planned ahead of the latest demonstrations.