At least two people were killed during the third day of protests against Iran’s iron-fisted regime and poor living conditions, according to reports.
Demonstrators throughout the nation have called for the removal of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Middle Eastern nation’s supreme leader since 1989.
They have also chanted “Death to Rouhani” in reference to Iran President Hassan Rouhani, who earlier this year won a second term in office.
At least 200 people were arrested in the capital, Tehran, on Saturday, the ILNA news agency reported.
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In response to the uprisings — the fiercest in Iran since 2009 — the nation’s Revolutionary Guard has vowed protesters will be met with an “iron fist” should the rallies carry on, the BBC reports.
That apparently began with shutting down Instagram as well as messaging app Telegram, according to Iran’s state-run TV network.
“Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down … peacefully protesting channels,” the app’s CEO, Pavel Durov, tweeted Sunday.
Telegram is a popular form of messaging in Iran, and it’s how many in the nation learned of the demonstrations. Iranian officials reportedly shuttered a Telegram channel they said was prompting violence. The person who ran the channel said that wasn’t the case.
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At least two people were killed during a protest in the western Lorestan province, a semi-official Iran news agency reported.
They reportedly died in Dorud, where officials said the protesters were actually killed by extremist Sunni Muslims and foreign governments.
“The gathering was to be ended peacefully, but due to the presence of the (agitators), unfortunately, this happened,” said Habibollah Khojastepour, the deputy head of security in Lorestan, who reiterated security forces didn’t shoot the ralliers.
The BBC, citing correspondents, said the statement implied Saudi Arabia was behind the killings.
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Iran’s Islamic Republic has been locked in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia for more than six years, backing waring forces in Syria, Yemen and Nigeria.
The recent bout of demonstrations are the fiercest in Iran since the Green Movement, which began in June 2009 and carried on for nearly eight months.
Those rallies — considered the largest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 — were over alleged electoral fraud after the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This time, demonstrators first took to the streets in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, to protest the subpar economic conditions for average citizens.
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President Trump on Sunday tweeted that the “people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
The commander-in-chief has regularly criticized the Obama administration’s deal with Iran, which lifted some sanctions in exchange for reviewing its nuclear program.
Critics of the pact argue the economic boost from the sanctions lift hasn’t benefited the average citizen. The nation’s unemployment rate is still over a staggering 10% and basic foods like eggs remain costly.
“The deal with Iran hasn’t worked,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
“The money didn’t go to benefit the people,” he continued. “It went to benefit the ayatollah and his henchmen.”
While Graham thinks it’s good the President is supporting the Iranian people, he said Trump needs to act quickly on a solution.
“If I were President Trump I’d lay out of a plan as to how we’d engage the regime,” Graham said. “I would tell the Europeans and the Congress and the world that America is going to withdraw from this agreement unless it’s a better deal, and I’d lay out what a better deal would look like.”
Retired Adm. Michael Mullen, who chaired the joint chiefs of staff until 2011, said the U.S. could’ve done more to back the 2009 movement — and now was the time to stand with the demonstrators.
“I hope we can be (more supportive) right now so that Iran can continue to evolve,” Mullen said on ABC News’ “This Week.” “They have an incredibly young population. They look to a future that they cannot see.”
State television began acknowledging the protests on Saturday, noting 50 people had been arrested since the rallies began two days earlier. Another 80 were reportedly arrested in Arak, a town about 175 miles south of Tehran.
Demonstrators also shouted the name Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran who fled during the Islamist Revolution in 1979 and later died in Egypt.
With News Wire Services
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TERENCE CULLEN, ERIN DURKIN