By Edward Yeranian
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is insisting the government must react firmly to the widespread protests across the country over the death of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the regime’s morality police. Demonstrations have spread to at least 133 cities in the country.
Video on social media showed protesters torching a statue of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his hometown of Mashhad Friday, as they chanted slogans against him and the government. Other videos showed protesters in multiple cities, including the capital Tehran, setting fire to Khamenei’s portrait.
Raisi, who returned several days ago from a trip to the United Nations in New York, was reported by Iranian media to have told the family of a regime supporter killed in the protests that “the government must react decisively against the protests.”
General Azizollah Maleki, who is the police chief of Gilan province, a hotbed of the current protests, told government media that security forces in his province are “on the verge of collapse.” More than 700 people reportedly were arrested for protesting in Gilan.
Protesters reportedly took control of large parts of the mostly Kurdish town of Aznaveh in the northwest of the country after security forces were overwhelmed by the large numbers of protesters.
Video on social media also showed violent clashes between protesters and government security forces and the volunteer pro-government Basij militia group in the district of Sattar Khan in the capital of Tehran.
Iran analyst Ali Nourizadeh told VOA that “women have joined their husbands, sons and brothers to protest in the streets,” while students also have joined the protests in large numbers “despite the heavy-handed regime crackdown on student protesters during demonstrations last year and in 2018.”
Nourizadeh said that unlike the protests of 2009, 2018 and last year, there is “no single demand being made by protesters,” other than the downfall of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his regime.
“This time, nobody says anything about the economic situation. We don’t have any single slogans. They say death to Khamenei, [and] the regime should be toppled. They call [out to] Khamenei’s son [Mojtaba, reputed to be in line to succeed his father], ‘you will die, but you will not see the leadership.'”
Nourizadeh said he suspects that recent reports about Supreme Leader Khamenei being in bad health “may have added to the anger of the people,” who don’t want Khamenei’s son Mojtaba to succeed him.
Anti-government media is claiming that several thousand protesters have been arrested since the death of Mahsa Amini last week ignited protests initially in mostly Kurdish regions of the country. Several dozen demonstrators reportedly have been killed in the protests.
Iranian journalist Aida Ghajar posted video on Twitter Saturday of family members in front of Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, looking to find out if missing loved ones are being held there.