Iran’s Rouhani sings a different tune to end protests

As the world watches protests spreading in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani has started singing a different tune to end them.

Addressing a cabinet session, he said on Sunday that Iran is a free country where people have the right to express themselves but in the same breath, warned them against indulging in riots which could endanger nation’s security. There is no harm in carrying out peaceful protests, he said.

Taking a dig at US President Donald Trump, Rouhani said someone calling Iranians ‘terrorists’ has no right to ‘sympathise’ with them.

On Saturday, Tehran warned people as the pitch of their protests shifted from economic problems to criticism against the Islamic regime as a whole. Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said such “illegal gatherings” will create problems for protesters and other citizens.

US President Donald Trump warned Tehran that “the world is watching” after dozens of demonstrators were arrested.

In his tweet, Trump said Iranians have been holding peaceful protests since Thursday in cities because they are fed up with Rouhani’s corrupt government which is “squandering nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad”.

He urged Tehran to respect people’s rights, including their right to express themselves.

Anti-government protests over rising food prices, poverty, inequality and unemployment which began in  Mashhad on Thursday is spreading. Large number of protesters turned out on Friday in Rasht in the north and Kermanshah in the west. However, protests in Isfahan, Hamadan and elsewhere were subdued. Demonstrations in Qom, home to powerful clerics, came as a surprise.

Amid calls to rein in prices, harsh slogans were raised against clerics and President Hassan Rouhani  like “People are begging and clerics are acting like god’ and ‘Death to Rouhani’.

The mood of the nation is evident. People want the government to address their basic needs. The prices of eggs have doubled in one week, inflation stands at 10% and unemployment at 12.7%. Millions of dollars are wasted on fighting wars elsewhere.

Protesters chanted ‘Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran’ implying ‘forget about the outside world, think about us’.

Social media played an active role in encouraging protests and foiling Tehran’s attempt to stop them by warning citizens that such gatherings are illegal. Some protesters even called for release of political prisoners.

Clashes erupted between security forces and some demonstrators in Kermanshah after public property was destroyed. About 300 participated in Kermanshah’s protests. At least 50 of them were arrested.

Pressure is building on Rouhani government as political protests are rare and they are now facing the largest wave of demonstrations since 2009.

Earlier, conservative cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda called for tough action against protesters.

“If the security and law enforcement agencies leave the rioters to themselves, enemies will publish films and pictures in their media and say that the Islamic Republic system has lost its revolutionary base in Mashhad,” the state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.