- Calls for execution of rioters
- Death of woman sparks mass protests
- Army issues tough warning
DUBAI, Sept 23 (Reuters) – State-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities on Friday to counter nationwide anti-government unrest triggered by the death of a woman in police custody, with marchers calling for the execution of “rioters”.
The pro-government marches followed the strongest warning yet from authorities when the army said it would confront “the enemies” behind the unrest – a move that could signal the kind of crackdown that has crushed protests in the past.
The crowds condemned the anti-government protesters as “Israel’s soldiers”, live state television coverage showed.
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“Offenders of the Koran must be executed,” they chanted.
The Twitter account 1500tasvir, which has 117,000 followers, reported heavy clashes in the central city of Isfahan between anti-government protesters and security forces.
It also showed anti-government street protests in several parts of the capital and in Shahin Shahr in central Iran.
State TV said 35 people had been killed in the unrest so far based on its own count and an official figure would be announced.
Many Iranians are fuming over the case of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died last week after being arrested by the morality police for wearing “unsuitable attire”.
The morality police, attached to Iran’s law enforcement, are tasked with ensuring the respect of Islamic morals as described by the country’s clerical authorities.
Amini’s death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, strict dress codes for women and an economy reeling from sanctions.
The anti-government protests are not expected to pose an immediate threat to Iran’s clerical rulers, who have security forces which have put down one protest after another in recent years, analysts say.
But the protests have clearly made the authorities nervous. Women, who have played a prominent role, have challenged the country’s Islamic dress code, waving and burning their veils.
Some have publicly cut their hair as furious crowds called for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
‘OUR RED LINE’
Iran’s police chief Hossein Ashtari weighed in with tough words in an attempt to stop the protests.
“The people’s security is our red line,” he told state TV. “Those involved in sabotage and creating insecurity based on directives from outside the country should know that they will be strongly dealt with.”
The army’s message on Friday, seen as a warning to protesters, read: “These desperate actions are part of the evil strategy of the enemy to weaken the Islamic regime.”
The military said it would “confront the enemies’ various plots in order to ensure security and peace for the people who are being unjustly assaulted”.
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi on Friday also warned “