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Iran

One Iranian officer killed, three wounded by armed protester as Israeli leader cheers on unrest

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 6:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2018, 3:50am

One Iranian police officer was killed and three others wounded on Monday night during Iran’s continuing civil unrest, taking the official death count to 16.

State television said one policeman had been killed and three others wounded by fire from hunting rifles in the city of Najafabad in central Iran. Hunting rifles are common in homes across the country.

Those deaths came after five days of violence saw 15 others – all apparently civilians – killed, although officials continue to deny reports of security forces opening fire on demonstrators.

The news came just after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Iranian anti-government, while denying as “laughable” Tehran’s apparent accusations that his country was behind the demonstrations.

“I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

“Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied them for decades.

“Iran’s cruel regime wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate,” he said.

Those remarks echoed similar praise from US President Donald Trump, who has tweeted it is “time for a change” in the Middle-Eastern country, and that the Iranian people are “hungry” for freedom.

On Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani was quoted by state media as apparently blaming Iran’s arch enemies, the United States and Israel, for provoking unrest.

“Our success in the political arena against the United States and the Zionist regime was unbearable to [Iran’s enemies],” he reportedly said in a meeting with lawmakers.

“Iran’s success in the region was unbearable to them. Don’t you expect that they would seek revenge? Don’t you think they would provoke some people?”

Netanyahu said Rouhani’s suggestion that Israel was involved was “not only false – it’s laughable”. He also called on European countries to condemn Tehran for trying to put down demonstrations.

Those protests continue despite promises from the government that it would not brook dissent.

There was a heavy police presence in Tehran as small groups of protesters ran through the city centre shouting anti-regime slogans, local agencies reported.

As well as the slain police officer, 15 people have been reported dead by authorities – including nine others in others in central Iranian cities: six in Tuyserkan and three in Shahinshahr.

Four people have been killed in the city of Dorud and two more in the southwestern city of Izeh.

A police spokesman said on the state broadcaster said an Iranian protester in Najafabad fired at police, killing one and injuring three others.

The protests began on Thursday in Mashhad – apparently over economic issues – and have since expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Although Iranian officials in the last three days tried to peacefully calm down the protesters, more than 400 protesters were reportedly arrested by security forces in Tehran, Mashhad, Kashan, Urmia, Izeh, Dorud and Arak.

“Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces,” state television reported. It did not say where those attacks occurred.

State television aired images of burning buildings, as well as an ambulance crew trying to aid a wounded person amid a crowd of shouting people.

It also showed a fire truck that appeared to have been attacked and burned.

“Amid unrest on Sunday, six people were killed in Tuyserkan and three in Shahinshahr,” one report said.

In separate reports, Mashallah Nemati, governor of Dorud, a city in western Lorestan Province, confirmed reports that two people injured in unrest on Saturday died in a hospital, while on Sunday, an official of Dorud confirmed two other deaths there.

The semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Hedayatollah Khademi, a representative for the town of Izeh, in southwestern Iran, as saying two people died there on Sunday night. He denied police or security forces had any role in the matter.

He said the cause of death wasn’t immediately known. Many in Izeh, some 455km southwest of Tehran, have hunting rifles in their homes.

On Sunday, Iran blocked access to Instagram and the popular messaging app Telegram used by activists to organise.

President Hassan Rowhani acknowledged the public’s anger over the Islamic Republic’s flagging economy, though he and others warned that the government would not hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers.

That was echoed Monday by Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, who urged authorities to strongly confront rioters, state television reported.

“I demand all prosecutors across the country to get involved and approach should be strong,” he said.

Larijani said protesters’ behaviour is “unacceptable” and they will face a “decisive punishment” for their illegal activities. “I advise people to separate their way from the rebels” who are acting against common order.

A day after the rally in Mashhad, at which the crowd chanted “Death to Rowhani”, First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri accused hardline rivals of being behind the demonstrations. “The fire which they had set will burn their own fingers,” Jahangiri said.

Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on Sunday the government and parliament are following the people’s wishes and trying to resolve the problems.

“The authorities will definitely punish those who are trying to spread fear in society by violating and breaching the law,” the ministry’s official website quoted Fazli as saying.

In many restive cities on Monday, mobile phones could not access the internet, indicating that the security authorities were tightening controls over information.

US President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting in support of protesters in Iran, continued into the New Year, describing the country as “failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration”.

“The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years,” he wrote. “They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Iranian anti-government protesters on Monday, while denying as “laughable” Tehran’s apparent accusations that Israel was behind the demonstrations.

“I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

“Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied them for decades. Iran’s cruel regime wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate,” he said in remarks that echoed similar praise from Trump.

While some have shared Trump’s tweets, many in Iran distrust him as he has refused to re-certify the nuclear deal and his travel bans have blocked Iranians from getting US visas.

Additional reporting by Kyodo and Agence France Presse