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Iranians who support current leadership take to streets in several cities

Iranians who support current leadership take to streets in several cities
From CBC - January 3, 2018

Tens of thousands of Iranians took part in pro-government demonstrations in several cities across the country on Wednesday, Iranian state media reported.

The state-sponsored show of force after six days of street unrest that has shaken the clerical leadership and left 21 people dead.

While the rallies showed support among Iran's 80 million people for its clerically overseen government, smaller and smaller towns in the Iranian countryside appear to be experiencing the unrest that has already swept through urban areas, according to protesters' online videos.

Official and semi-official media did not immediately offer new details of the unrest Wednesday. Demonstrators' videos corresponded with The Associated Press reporting from outside of Iran, though individual protesters themselves remain unreachable. The protests for now also appear to remain leaderless.

The protests, the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, began on Dec. 28 in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city and a bastion for hard-liners. While initially focusing on Iran's flagging economy and rising food prices, they have morphed into demands for wholesale change in Iran's theocratic government.

The U.S. administration has been vocal about its support for the rights of Iranian protesters, with President Donald Trump adding a more cryptic note about American "support" on Twitter early Wednesday.

"Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!" Trump tweeted.

On Wednesday, state TV reported that demonstrations took place in dozens of cities and towns, including Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, the Kurdish town of Kermanshah in the country's west and Qom, the religions capital of Shia Islam in Iran.

Demonstrators carried preprinted signs and Iranian flags, with state TV offering a swooping helicopter shot in Ahvaz to show their scale. Ahvaz and the wider Khuzestan province is home to many ethnic Arabs and has seen unrest amid the protests.

In Qom, state TV cameras focused on the Shia clerics taking part, many wearing the black turbans identifying them as direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

'Answer to the protests'

The English-language Press TV broadcast Wednesday's pro-government rallies live, saying they sought to "protest the violence that has taken place over the last few nights in cities." State TV said in Farsi that the demonstrations served as an "answer to the protests" by "servants of the U.S." as the pro-government demonstrators called the protesters.

The rallies come after Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday blamed days of protests across the country on meddling by "enemies of Iran."

"Look at the recent days' incidents," Khamenei said. "All those who are at odds with the Islamic Republic have utilized various means, including money, weapons, politics and [the] intelligence apparatus, to create problems for the Islamic system, the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution."

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