Iran stages pro-government rallies, cleric urges firm punishment for protest leaders
Tens of thousands of government supporters rallied across Iran on Friday, swearing allegiance to the clerical establishment and accusing arch-enemy the United States of instigating the biggest anti-government protests for nearly a decade, state TV reported, APA reports quoting Reuters.
Tehran’s Friday prayer leader called on authorities to deal “firmly” with those responsible for igniting over a week of demonstrations, in which 22 people were killed and more than 1,000 people were arrested, according to Iranian officials.
“But those ordinary Iranians who were deceived by these American-backed rioters should be dealt with based on Islamic clemency,” cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran university, TV reported.
Khatami also called on the government to “pay more attention to people’s economic problems.”
Protests erupted on December 28 in the holy Shi‘ite city of Mashhad after the government announced plans to raise fuel prices and dismantle monthly cash handouts to lower-income Iranians.
Unrest spread to more than 80 cities and rural towns as thousands of young and working class Iranians voiced anger at graft, unemployment and a deepening gap between rich and poor.
Some 42,000 people took part in the unrest across the country, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli was quoted as saying by state TV.
To try to allay tensions, the government suspended its planned fuel price hikes and cash handout cuts. Ali Rabiei, Iran’s minister of cooperatives, labor and social welfare, said the government had plans to create over 900,000 jobs by March 2019, the state news agency IRNA reported on Friday.
The authorities have produced no evidence of a U.S. role in the demonstrations, which have lacked a unifying leader.
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