Iran stages pro-government rallies, derides Trump ‘blunder’ at U.N.

DUBAI (Reuters) – Thousands of government supporters staged rallies in Iran for a fourth day on Saturday in a backlash against widespread anti-government protests that the clerical establishment has blamed on the country’s enemies.

Saturday’s show of support took place a day after Iran’s foreign minister said a United Nations Security Council meeting called by the United States to discuss the protests had proved a “blunder” by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

State television showed rallies and marches in more than a dozen cities with demonstrators waving Iranian flags and chanting slogans including “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and “Death to Britain”.

More than a week of unrest has seen 22 people die and more than 1,000 arrested, according to Iranian officials, in the biggest anti-government protests for nearly a decade.

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.

Residents contacted by Reuters in various cities have said the protests had subsided in recent days, after the government intensified a crackdown by dispatching Revolutionary Guards forces to several provinces.

On Saturday, videos on social media showed a heavy police presence in cities, including Khorramabad in southwestern Iran where on Wednesday evening social media posts showed protesters throwing stones at riot police.

The protests have drawn largely young people and workers as well as members of the educated middle-class that formed the backbone of a pro-reform revolt almost a decade ago.

The provincial governor in northeastern Mashhad, where the protests started, was quoted as saying on Saturday that 85 percent of detainees there had been released after signing a pledge not to re-offend.

“Those with a criminal record, or those charged with sabotage such as setting fire to motorcycles or damaging public buildings have been referred to judicial authorities,” governor Alireza Rashidian told the ISNA news agency.

A police spokesman said most of those arrested were “duped” into joining the unrest and had been freed on bail, the state news agency IRNA reported. “But, the leaders of the unrest are held by the judiciary in prison.”

Tehran University Vice-President Majid Sarsangi said the university had set up a committee to track the fate of students arrested during the unrest.

“Our efforts at the university are aimed at cooperating with the…

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