Protests in Iran flare up again after government protests

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Protests flared up in Iran for the eighth night in a row on Friday over the death of a young woman arrested by vice squad, verified social media posts showed, hours after counter-demonstrations mobilized by authorities.

According to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based organization, at least 50 people have been killed by security forces in anti-government protests, more than three times the official death toll of 17, including five security personnel.

The street violence, which IHR says has spread to 80 towns and cities, was caused by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd who had been in a coma for three days after being detained by the vice squad in Tehran.

Verified images circulated on social media showed large crowds of protesters gathering after dark in several neighborhoods of the capital Tehran, just hours after the government-backed demonstrations broke up.

Some faced armed riot police or militias.

Iran has imposed strict restrictions on the use of the internet to hinder the gathering of protesters and allow the flow of images of the resistance to reach the outside world.

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– ‘Afraid of own people’ –

The United States announced Friday that it was easing export restrictions on Iran to expand internet services, days after SpaceX owner Elon Musk said he would seek sanctions exemption to offer his company’s Starlink satellite service in the Islamic Republic.

The new measures “help counter the Iranian government’s attempts to control and censor its citizens,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said.

“It is clear that the Iranian government is afraid of its own people,” he added.

On Friday, thousands took to the streets in support of the hijab in government-sponsored counter-demonstrations in Tehran and other cities.

“The great demonstration of the Iranian people condemning the conspirators and the sacrilege against religion took place today,” Iran’s Mehr news agency said.

State television broadcast images of pro-hijab protesters in central Tehran, many of them men but also women dressed in black chadors.

– Deadly Clashes –

Amini died on September 16, three days after being hospitalized following her arrest by the vice squad, the unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.

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Activists said she was hit on the head while in custody, but this is disputed by Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.

After she was pronounced dead, furious protests erupted and spread to major cities including Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz, as well as her native Kurdistan.

In the latest violence, protesters clashed with security forces on Friday night in the city of Bokan in West Azerbaijan province, said Hengaw, a second Oslo-based rights group. The report of this Kurdish organization could not be independently verified.

In the town of Babol, in the northern province of Mazandaran, protesters saw a large billboard setting fire to the image of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in videos shared online.

Unverified footage appeared to show protesters setting fire to a base of the feared Basij militia on Ferdowsi Street in central Terhan. It could not be verified immediately.

Some female protesters have defiantly removed their hijabs and burned them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair before cheering on the crowd, according to video footage that went viral on social media.

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– ‘Profuse bleeding’ –

Protesters have thrown rocks at security forces, set fire to police cars and chanted anti-government slogans, state IRNA news agency reported.

“The government has responded with live ammunition, shotguns and tear gas, according to videos shared on social media that also show protesters bleeding profusely,” the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said.

Internet access is restricted in what web monitor NetBlocks has called a “curfew-like pattern of disruptions.”

“Online platforms remained limited and connectivity is intermittent for many users and mobile internet was disrupted for a third day on Friday,” NetBlocks said.

Measures were taken in response to “actions carried out by counter-revolutionaries against national security through these social networks,” according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

President Ebrahim Raisi said on Thursday at a news conference in New York where he attended the UN General Assembly: “We must distinguish between protesters and vandalism”.

The turmoil comes at a particularly sensitive time for leaders as Iran’s economy remains mired in a crisis largely driven by US sanctions over its nuclear program.

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