The US says it will relax internet restrictions on Iran to counter Tehran’s crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a woman in police custody.
“We are going to ensure that the Iranian people are not isolated and kept in limbo,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said.
The easing of software controls will allow US tech companies to expand their operations in Iran.
At least 35 people have died in the worst unrest in Iran for years.
Mahsa Amini, 22, fell into a coma last week, hours after the morality police arrested her for allegedly violating the headscarf rules.
Officers reportedly struck Ms Amini’s head with a baton and slammed her head against one of their vehicles. Police have said there is no evidence of assault and she suffered “sudden heart failure”.
Anti-government protests continued for eight nights in a row on Friday, while pro-regime demonstrations also took place in Tehran and other cities.
Mr Blinken said the partial easing of internet restrictions was a “concrete step to provide meaningful support to Iranians demanding that their basic rights be respected”. It was clear, he added, that the Iranian government “was afraid of its own people”.
The US Treasury said the move would help counter the Iranian government’s attempt to “surveil and censor” its people.
But it’s unlikely to have an immediate impact, as it “doesn’t remove every tool of communications repression.”
Billionaire Elon Musk said on Twitter that he would activate his satellite internet company Starlink to provide internet services to Iran in response to Mr Blinken’s announcement.
Starlink provides internet services via a huge network of satellites and is aimed at people who live in remote areas and cannot get high speed internet.
US officials said the updated license did not cover hardware supplied by Mr. Musk, but his company and others were welcome to apply for permission from the Treasury.
Images shared on social media on Friday show large crowds of protesters gathering after dark in several neighborhoods of Tehran, while other incidents took place elsewhere in the country. During the protests, which have swept across large parts of the country, women defiantly took off their headscarves and burned them, or cut their hair in front of a cheering crowd.
On Friday, there were also pro-regime demonstrations in Tehran and other cities, with those in attendance showing support for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been targeted by anti-government protesters.
Speaking at a pro-government event, President Ebrahim Raisi said he would not allow the country’s security to be “threatened”.
“We will under no circumstances allow the safety of people to be compromised,” he said shortly after his return from the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Mr Raisi stressed that Iran’s “enemies” wanted to exploit the unrest and said the government would listen to criticism of Ms Amini’s death but would not be affected by “riots”.