President Rouhani accepts Iranians' right to protest, calls for peace

01 January 2018

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday acknowledged the grievances of protesters nationwide but called on them to refrain from violence after a night of escalating unrest saw attacks on government buildings and confrontations with police.

President Rouhani acknowledged that the Iranian people have the right to express themselves peacefully in his first comments on the anti-governmental protests.

"Iran is a free nation, and according to the constitutional laws, the people have the right to express their criticism and protest," the state-run IRNA news agency cited Rouhani as saying.

However, Rouhani said that the aim of these protests should be to improve the situation in the country and people's lives.

From the capital, Tehran, to Kermanshah in the west and the holy city of Qom in the north, Iranians defied police to vent frustration against a government that allows limited space for dissent.

On the fourth day of the largest protests since an uprising over disputed election results in 2009, Iranian protesters chanted ''Death to the dictator!'' as they tore down posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds absolute authority in Iran. Public criticism of Khamenei is generally taboo.

The moderate Rouhani struck a conciliatory tone in his address to the nation. But even as he attempted to mollify protesters, authorities said they blocked Instagram and the messaging app Telegram on Sunday in a move aimed at blunting the demonstrations.

The mass protest was sparked by economic woes but swiftly expanded to target a system that many have said is corrupt and incapable of reform. The demonstrations appear to have caught Iran's leadership off guard.

''Iranians understand the sensitive situation of Iran and the region and will act based on national interests,'' Rouhani said, according to the Mehr news agency.

He also fired back at US President Donald Trump, who has posted on Twitter about the protests three times over the past few days.

''Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism,'' Trump tweeted Sunday.

''Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!''

Rouhani said, "Anyone who calls the Iranian people terrorists does not have the right to sympathize with the people."

Two people died on Saturday in the western Iranian province of Lorestan during the protests, the deputy governor of the province Habibollah Khojastepour said.

Khojastepour said the death of the two civilians on Saturday night in the city of Dorud in Lorestan, adding that the authorities wanted to disperse the demonstrations peacefully, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

He alleged that "takfiris" (Sunni extremists) and foreign intelligence services had been involved in the protests in Dorud, which he characterised as riots.

Meanwhile, at least 200 protesters were arrested on Saturday in Tehran on charges of causing conflict and destroying property, Tehran city government security official Ali Asgar Naserbajt said.

Some of those arrested were later released, while others were remanded to custody, Naserbajt told the ILNA news agency.

Deputy Interior Minister for Political Affairs Esmail Jabar Zada justified the use of "some tools" to curtail illegal rallies, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The measures are temporary and the government has no intention of blocking social media networks permanently, the deputy interior minister said.

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