TEHRAN: Nine people were killed as fresh unrest hit Iran overnight, state television said Tuesday, while hundreds have been arrested as authorities crack down on the biggest anti-regime demonstrations in years, reports AFP.
An attack on a police station in the town of Qahderijan, in the central province of Isfahan, led to six protesters being killed, the state broadcaster reported.
At least three other towns near the cultural hub of Isfahan saw violence overnight, causing the deaths of a young member of the Revolutionary Guards, a policeman and a bystander.
The estimated death toll is now 21 from five days of unrest that represent the biggest challenge to the Islamic regime since mass demonstrations in 2009.
The unrest appears leaderless and focused on provincial towns and cities, with only small and sporadic protests in Tehran on Monday evening where a heavy police presence was reported.
As violence has spread, authorities have stepped up arrests, with at least 450 people detained in the capital since Saturday and 100 more around Isfahan on Monday, officials told local media.
A Revolutionary Guards spokesman said there was no need for them to intervene directly, but they requested the public to report “seditionist elements”.
“We will not permit insecurity to continue in any way in Tehran. If it continues, officials will take decisions to finish it,” said Esmail Kowsari, a deputy commander for a local branch of the Revolutionary Guards, on state television.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, described the unrest as a “proxy war against the Iranian people”.
“Hashtags and messages about the situation in Iran come from the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia,” he told local media.
President Hassan Rouhani has tried to play down the unrest, which began over economic grievances in second city Mashhad last Thursday but quickly turned against the regime as a whole with chants of “Death to the dictator”.
“This is nothing,” he said in a statement on the presidency website, vowing the nation would deal with “this minority who...insult the sanctities and values of the revolution”.