Iranians are free to protest but must avoid violence, President Rouhani says

President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that Iranians had the right to protest and criticise the government but that demonstrations should not lead to violence or damaging public property.
In his first public comments since anti-government demonstrations began on Thursday over Iran’s economic stagnation, Rouhani was quoted by the Mehr state news agency as telling his cabinet: “Iranians understand the sensitive situation of Iran and region, and will act based on their national interests.”

“Government bodies should provide space for legal criticism and protest,” he said, but added: “Criticism differs from violence and destroying public property.”

Demonstrations should not make the public “feel concerned about their lives and security”.
Rouhani also rebuffed US President Donald Trump’s comments in support of the protests on Twitter, saying: “those who called Iranians terrorists have no business sympathising with our nation”.

Iran on Sunday blocked access to Instagram and a popular messaging app used by activists to organise and publicise the protests now roiling the Islamic Republic.

The demonstrations, which began Thursday over the economic woes plaguing Iran and continued on Sunday, appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since the protests that followed the country’s disputed 2009 presidential election.

Many in Iran are learning about the protests and sharing images of them through Telegram, a mobile phone messaging app popular among the country’s 80 million people. On Saturday, Telegram shut down one channel on the service over Iranian allegations it encouraged violence, allegations that its moderator denied.

Meanwhile, authorities acknowledged the first fatalities in the protests in Doroud, a city some 325 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Tehran in Iran’s western Lorestan province. Protesters had gathered for an unauthorised rally that lasted into the night Saturday, said Habibollah Khojastepour, the security deputy of Lorestan’s governor. The two protesters were killed in clashes at the rally, he said.

Khojastepour did not offer a cause of death for the two protesters, but said “no bullets were shot from police and security forces at the people”.

The semi-official ILNA news agency reported Sunday that authorities had arrested some 80 protesters in the city of Arak, some 280 kilometres (173 miles) south of Tehran.

Iran’s economy has improved since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.

That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

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