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Iran has seen its largest anti-government protests since the disputed presidential election in 2009, with thousands taking to the streets in several cities in recent days.
Travel restrictions and moves by the government to shut down social media networks have limited the ability of journalists to cover the ongoing unrest, which Iranian state television says has killed 12 people. Here’s what we know so far:
HOW DID THE PROTESTS START?
The demonstrations began Thursday in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city and the home of a famous Shiite shrine. The city is a conservative bastion and a stronghold of Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric who unsuccessfully challenged President Hassan Rouhani in last year’s election. Analysts suggest conservatives began the protests there as a means to pressure Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric within Iran’s theocratic government. The protests then rapidly spread throughout the rest of the country of 80 million people.
WHAT DO PROTESTERS WANT?
Demonstrators initially focused on Iran’s flagging economy. Despite now being able to sell oil on the international market after the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran faces rising inflation and high unemployment. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have sparked the protests. Protesters have chanted against Rouhani as well as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Some have criticized Iran’s military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while others have praised the U.S.-backed shah, who fled into exile just before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and died of cancer the following year.
WHO IS LEADING THE PROTESTS?
So far, no central leadership has emerged. That’s in contrast to the 2009 Green Movement demonstrations, which protested hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election amid widespread allegations of voter fraud. Those protests, Iran’s biggest since 1979, prompted a crackdown by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates that saw thousands detained, dozens killed and others tortured. Its leaders remain under house arrest years later. While leaderless, these new protests have been fanned in part by an exiled journalist named Roohallah Zam using a mobile phone messaging app called Telegram .