Students defy Iran protest ultimatum, unrest enters more dangerous phase

  • The protests show no signs of abating amid fierce government warnings
  • Students clash with security forces
  • The journalists are demanding the release of their arrested colleagues
  • Human rights groups report arrests of activists, students

DUBAI, Oct 30 (Reuters) – Weeks of protest in Iran entered a more violent phase on Sunday as students defied an ultimatum by the Revolutionary Guards and were met with tear gas, beatings and shooting by riot police and militia , show videos on social media.

The confrontations at dozens of universities sparked threats of a tougher crackdown in the seventh week of demonstrations since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by morals police for clothing deemed inappropriate.

Iranians from all walks of life protested after Amini’s death.

What began as outrage over Amini’s death on September 16 has turned into one of the worst challenges to the clerics since the 1979 revolution, with some protesters calling for the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards told protesters that Saturday would be their last day on the streets, the harshest warning yet from Iranian authorities.

However, videos on social media, which could not be verified by Reuters, showed clashes between students and riot police and Basij forces on Sunday at universities across Iran.

One video shows a member of the Basij force firing at close range on student protesters at a branch of Azad University in Tehran. Gunshots were also heard in a video shared by human rights group HENGAW of protests at Kurdistan University in Sanandaj.

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Videos from universities in some other cities also showed Basij forces opening fire on students.

Across the country, security forces tried to block students in university buildings, using tear gas and beating protesters with sticks. The students, who appeared to be unarmed, retreated, some chanting “Disgraced Basij out” and “Death to Khamenei”.

HISTORY OF RESULTS

Social media reported the arrests of at least a dozen doctors, journalists and entertainers since Saturday.

The activist news agency HRANA said 283 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Saturday, including 44 minors. Around 34 members of the security forces were also killed.

More than 14,000 people have been arrested, including 253 students, during protests in 132 cities and 122 universities, it said.

The Guard and its affiliated Basij forces have crushed dissent in the past. They said on Sunday that “rebels” were insulting them in universities and on the streets and warned that they could use more force if the anti-government unrest continued.

“So far, the Basij have shown restraint and been patient,” the head of the Revolutionary Guard in Khorasan Junubi province, Brigadier General Mohammadreza Mahdavi, was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

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“But it will get out of our control if the situation continues.

JOURNALISTS APPEAL

More than 300 Iranian journalists demanded the release of two colleagues convicted of reporting on Amini, in a statement published by Iran’s Etemad and other newspapers on Sunday.

Nilufar Hamedi took a picture of Amini’s parents hugging each other in a hospital in Tehran, where their daughter lay in a coma.

The image Hamedi tweeted was the first signal to the world that all was not well with Amini, who had been detained three days earlier by Iran’s morality police for what they deemed inappropriate clothing.

Elahe Mohammadi was covering Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish hometown of Sakez, where the protests began. A joint statement released by Iran’s intelligence ministry and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence organization on Friday accused Hamedi and Mohammadi of being foreign CIA agents.

The arrests match the official narrative that Iran’s archenemies the United States, Israel and other Western powers and their domestic agents are behind the unrest and are determined to destabilize the country.

At least 40 journalists have been detained in the past six weeks, according to rights groups, and the number is rising.

Students and women played a prominent role in the unrest, burning their veils as crowds called for the fall of the Islamic Republic, which came to power in 1979.

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An official said Sunday that the restaurant has no plans to withdraw from the mandatory headscarves, but needs to be “wise” about enforcement.

“Removing the veil is against our law and this headquarters will not budge from its position,” Ali Khanmohammadi, a spokesman for Iran’s headquarters for promoting virtue and preventing vice, told the Khabaronline website.

“However, our actions must be wise so as not to give enemies a pretext to use it against us.”

The apparent hint of compromise is unlikely to placate the protesters, most of whose demands have moved beyond dress code changes to calls for an end to clerical rule.

In a further apparent attempt to calm the situation, Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bakr Kalibaf said the people were right to call for change and their demands would be met if they distanced themselves from the “criminals” taking to the streets.

“We believe that protests are not only right and a reason for progress, but we also believe that these social movements will change policies and decisions, provided they are separated from the violent, the criminals and the separatists,” he said, using official terms usually used for the protesters.

Written by Michael Giorgi; Editing by Nick McPhee, Philippa Fletcher and Angus McSwan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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