RFE

RFE

Baku/20.05.22/Turan: Iranian security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse anti-government protests in several provinces on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Protests caused by rising food prices continue to spread, according to social media reports.

Iranians took to the streets last week after cuts in food subsidies led to a 300% rise in prices for some basic flour-based products. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing riots in 2019 that began over fuel price hikes.

Social media footage, unconfirmed by Reuters, showed at least six people killed and dozens injured in recent days. There has been no official comment on the death toll.

The footage was posted on social media on Thursday showing violent clashes in towns, including Farsan in central Iran, where public order police fired live ammunition at protesters. The security forces used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters in Shahr-e-Kord and Hafshejan.

"Don't be afraid, don't be afraid, we are together," demonstrators in the southern town of Dezful chanted in one video.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the quoted social media videos.

A high-ranking police official, Qasem Rezaei, warned on Thursday that "illegal gatherings will not be tolerated and will be stopped", Iran's semi-official news agency ILNA reported.

Last week the government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. In the meanwhile, Iran's state media reported on the arrests of "dozens of rioters and provocateurs".

It has to be kept in mind that the Iranian authorities are fearing a resurgence of the 2019 protests, the bloodiest in the history of the Islamic Republic.

Tehran then denied reports of more than 300 dead, according to Amnesty International, and 1,500 killed, according to Reuters.

Also, the government cut subsidies on basic necessities, including vegetable oil and dairy products, calling its decision a "fair redistribution" of subsidies for low-income people.

However, protesters expanded their demands, calling for more political freedoms, an end to the Islamic Republic and the overthrow of its leaders, according to witnesses and social media reports.

The footage on social media on Thursday showed demonstrators burning pictures of Iran's supreme authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and chanting "We do not want clerical rule", calling for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of Iran's deposed shah.

In a video message on his Twitter account, Reza Pahlavi called for unity among Iranians "for the sake of a free Iran" and expressed condolences to the families of those "killed in the riots".

Some social media users in Iran said Internet servers had been shut down since last week which testifies to apparent attempts of the authorities to stop the use of social media for rallies and video distribution. Iranian officials said there had been no disruption to Internet access.

According to official figures, nearly half of Iran's 85 million people live below the poverty line. Combined with rising inflation, growing unemployment, declining national currency and state corruption, US sanctions have further damaged the economy.

In 2018, then US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with six powers and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington have been deadlocked since March. -0-

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