Authorities Determined to Address Popular Demands

“The tense atmosphere does no good to security, production and employment, and in fact undermines them”
Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli
Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli

Iran's interior minister said the country's state bodies are determined to address people's economic woes, calling for peaceful and lawful pursuit of popular demands.

"The government, parliament and judiciary are resolved to accommodate public demands to settle the problems," ISNA quoted Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli as saying on Sunday, referring to recent protests against economic conditions in several Iranian cities, which have shown signs of abating after assurances by authorities.

Protesters voiced anger at the high cost of living and unemployment in demonstrations which started from Iran's second largest city Mashhad on Thursday and were later spread to several other cities.

Up until then, such demonstrations were often held by workers over lay-offs or non-payment of salaries or people who hold deposits in non-regulated, bankrupt financial institutions.

Rahmani Fazli said the three branches of power have managed to settle most of the problems raised in previous peaceful protests, and the economic demands of the nation can be better pursued if demonstrations are held within the framework of law.

Since assuming power in 2013, Rouhani has sought to clean up the banking sector and kick-start the underperforming economy, but many believe progress has been sluggish.

Rouhani's signature achievement, a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has yet to bring the broad economic benefits the government says are coming.    

Unemployment has risen to 12.4% this fiscal year (March 2017-18), according to the Statistical Center of Iran, leaving about 3.2 million Iranians jobless.

  Political Slogans

The protests in a string of cities drew considerable attention as they turned political.

Fars News Agency reported that small groups of people had taken advantage of rallies against rising prices on Friday to chant slogans against top officials and Tehran's regional role.  

The outlet said many marchers who wanted to raise economic demands left the scene after some demonstrators shouted political slogans.

There were also reports of violence in some places, which saw crowds confronting police and attacking some state buildings.

Police announced on Saturday that it had arrested a number of demonstrators that were trying to damage public property in the gatherings.

On the same day, videos posted on social media from the western town of Dorud showed two dead men, with a voiceover claiming they had been shot dead by riot police firing on protesters.

A provincial official confirmed the reports, saying that the role of "takfiri cells, hostile groups and foreign intelligence services" was evident in riots erupted in the city, ISNA quoted Deputy Governor of Lorestan Province Habibollah Khojastehpour as saying.

"No gunshots were fired by police or security forces against the people in Dorud," he said.

  No Gain in Vandalism

Rahmani Fazli cautioned that violence and vandal attacks by some protestors would do great harm to security and progress of the country.

"This atmosphere does no good to security, production and employment, and in fact it undermines them," he said, adding that people's legitimate economic concerns can be better addressed in a calm atmosphere.  

The minister said cases of vandalism and violation of citizenship rights have nothing to do with the peaceful demonstrations and the government will punish those who attack public property on the streets or promote violence via social media.

"Those who act to damage public assets, [disrupt] order, [disobey] law and [harm] security of people will be held accountable and must pay a price."

Politicians from across the political spectrum also poured statements of opposition to the acts of violence by some protestors.

Mohammad Reza Aref, the head of the Reformist Policymaking Council, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that although people have a right to express their opinion through street protests, they should ensure that rallies comply with regulations and should not stand silent in the face of those perpetrating violence.

"We should be careful not to create a tense atmosphere in the country. As this atmosphere is desired by ill-wishers and those who want to disappoint the people."

  Duplicitous Meddling

The US has offered overt backing for the protests, with its top officials sparing no chance to denounce the arrests of some protesters. US President Donald Trump late Friday tweeted to voice support for the protests, writing, "The world is watching!"

On Saturday, the controversial president went as far as asserting that the Iranian government "cannot endure forever".

"The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran's people are what their leaders fear the most," he contended.  

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi decried the US "duplicitous and opportunist" policy on Iran, saying a government that has a long record of violating rights of the Iranian people is in no position to advocate their rights.

He described as "cheap, worthless and invalid" the remarks by the US officials, who are also playing an active role in human rights violations in Palestine, Yemen and Bahrain.

"The Iranian people attach no value to the opportunistic remarks by American officials and Trump himself," Press TV quoted him as saying.

Taking a swipe at the US government for its shameful record of hostile policies toward Iran, including Washington's role in a coup against Iran's democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, Qasemi said, "US officials are not in a position to sympathize with the great and wise Iranian nation."

Trump has apparently revived the US policy of regime change toward Iran.

Two of his top officials, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have openly talked about the US need for what has been characterized as "peaceful transition" of the Iranian government.

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