Iran sees pro-government rallies


Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran

Tens of thousands of government supporters took to the streets across Iran on Wednesday as authorities tried to project a sense of stability after a week of nationwide protests sparked deadly clashes and calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic.

But even as state television broadcast swooping helicopter shots showing support among Iran’s 80 million people for its clerically overseen government, videos emerged showing the anti-government unrest that has swept major cities has also spread to the countryside.

The violence has killed at least 21 people and seen hundreds more arrested by authorities. Demonstrators’ videos corresponded with Associated Press reporting from outside of Iran, though individual activists remain unreachable and the protests for now appear leaderless. It was not clear if new protests were held Wednesday or if the videos showed earlier incidents.

The past week’s protests have been the largest since the disputed 2009 presidential election, which ended in bloodshed. While many Iranians denounce the violence that has accompanied some demonstrations, they echo the protesters’ frustration over the weak economy and official corruption.

The government “should not punish the guilty and the innocent alike,” said Mohammad Hossein Vakili, a 20-year-old computer science student in Tehran who has struggled to find meaningful work and who joined in peaceful protests.

“Why should they arrest someone like me when I protest the rise of the price of eggs?” he said.

The protests began Dec. 28 in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city and a bastion for hard-liners, initially focusing on Iran’s flagging economy and rising food prices. Now, they’ve morphed into demands for wholesale change in Iran’s theocratic government.

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