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Iran stages pro-government rallies, cleric urges punishment for protest leaders

From Reuters - January 5, 2018

ANKARA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of government supporters rallied across Iran on Friday, swearing allegiance to the clerical establishment and accusing arch-enemy the United States of instigating the biggest anti-government protests for nearly a decade, state TV reported.

Tehrans Friday prayer leader called on authorities to deal firmly with those responsible for igniting over a week of demonstrations, in which 22 people have died and more than 1,000 have been arrested, according to Iranian officials.

(For graphic on Iranian protests, click tmsnrt.rs/2CXDYXZ)

But those ordinary Iranians who were deceived by these American-backed rioters should be dealt with based on Islamic clemency, cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran university, TV reported.

Khatami also called on the government to pay more attention to peoples economic problems.

Protests erupted on Dec. 28 in the holy Shiite city of Mashhad after the government announced plans to raise fuel prices and cut monthly cash handouts to lower-income Iranians.

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.

Some 42,000 people took part in the unrest across the country, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli was quoted as saying by state TV.

To try to allay tensions, the government suspended its planned fuel price hikes and cash handout cuts. Ali Rabiei, Irans minister of cooperatives, labor and social welfare, said the government had plans to create over 900,000 jobs by March 2019, the state news agency IRNA reported on Friday.

Iranian officials said the protests were the result of foreign instigation and mocked U.S. President Donald Trumps support of protesters against what he called a brutal and corrupt establishment.

The authorities have produced no evidence of any U.S. role in the demonstrations, which have lacked a unifying leader.

GUARDS QUELLED UNREST

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Irans statements that external influences fomented the unrest were not groundless and that Washington used any possible method to destabilize governments it disliked.

He added that U.S. calls for an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the turmoil in Iran interfered with the countrys sovereignty, news agency Interfax said. The Council met on Friday to discuss Iran.

Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshroo told the U.N. Security Council meeting that the United States had abused its power as a permanent member of the Council by calling for a meeting on the turmoil in Iran.

UNITED FRONT

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