TEHRAN: A policeman was shot dead as fresh protests broke out in Iran on Monday while the authorities moved to crack down on days of unrest across the country.
There was a heavy police presence in Tehran as small groups of protesters ran through the capital shouting anti-government slogans
It followed the deadliest night yet on Sunday when 13 people died in violence.
Six people were killed by gunfire in the western town of Tuyserkan while two people were shot dead in the southwestern town of Izeh.
Police suffer first fatality of the protests
Two others, including a teenage boy, were run down and killed by a fire engine protesters stole in the western town of Dorud.
The death toll linked to the protests currently stands at 16.
State television said the policeman had been killed and three others wounded by fire from hunting rifles in the city of Najafabad, central Iran.
The latest demonstrations came despite President Hassan Rouhani’s vow that the nation would deal with “rioters and lawbreakers”.
US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticised Tehran over five days of demonstrations, said it was “time for a change” and that the Iranian people were “hungry” for freedom.
The intelligence ministry released a statement saying “rioters and instigators” have been identified “and will be dealt with seriously soon”.
The Revolutionary Guards published photos of three people wanted for their role in the unrest, calling on the public to report any “seditionist elements”.
Rouhani tried to play down the unrest, which began in second city Mashhad on Thursday and quickly spread across the country to become the biggest test for the government since mass protests in 2009.
“This is nothing,” Rouhani said in a statement on the presidency website.
“Our nation will deal with this minority who chant slogans against the law and people’s wishes, and insult the sanctities and values of the revolution,” he said.
Pro-government rallies were held across several towns and cities.
Reporting restrictions remained tight, but videos on social media showed seemingly widespread anti-government protests in many parts of the country, with attacks on government buildings and a school for clergy in the northwestern town of Takestan on Sunday.
Tehran has seen relatively small protests, but many people sympathise with the economic grievances driving the unrest.
“Life is really difficult. The high prices really put me under pressure. My husband is a government worker but his salary is no way enough for us to make ends meet,” said Farzaneh Mirzaie, 42, a mother of two.
“Mr Rouhani says it’s free for people to protest but we’re scared of speaking. Even now, I’m scared of talking to you,” added Sarita Mohammadi, a 35-year-old teacher.
“If it’s free to speak out and protest, then why have they deployed so many forces out there in the streets?”
The authorities have confirmed more than 400 arrests since the outbreak of the unrest, of whom around 100 have been freed.
US President Donald Trump used one of his first tweets of the new year to again lash out at a favourite target.
“The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted.
TIME FOR CHANGE!” he tweeted.
Rising living costs
After initial silence, state media began showing some footage of the demonstrations on Sunday, focusing on young men attacking banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran and images of a man burning the Iranian flag.
Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but high living costs and a 12 percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.
“We have no problem bigger than unemployment. Our economy needs an operation. We must all stand together,” Rouhani acknowledged on Monday.
The authorities have blamed external forces for fomenting violence, saying the majority of social media reports were emanating from Saudi Arabia or exile groups based in Europe.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2018