Iranian leader says ‘enemies’ may target workers as protests rage

DUBAI, Nov 19 (Reuters) – Protests raged in Iran’s universities and some cities on Saturday as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the country’s “enemies” could try to mobilize workers after they failed to overthrow the Islamic government in more than two months unrest.

The protests, one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s religious leaders in decades, have gathered momentum, frustrating authorities who have accused Iran’s foreign enemies and their agents of orchestrating the unrest.

“Until this hour, thank God, the enemies have been defeated. But the enemies have a new trick every day and with today’s defeat they may target other classes such as workers and women,” state TV quoted Khamenei as saying.

Women and university students have played a prominent role in the anti-government street demonstrations, waving and burning headscarves to denounce Iran’s strict Islamic dress code for women.

The wave of unrest erupted in September after Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini died in custody of the country’s vice squad after being arrested for wearing what were considered “inappropriate” clothes.

Protests spread to the vital energy sector last month, but demonstrations by workers, some dealing with demands related to wages and working conditions, were limited.

In 1979, a combination of mass protests and strikes by oil workers and bazaar traders helped bring the clergy to power in Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

On Saturday, activist news agency HRANA said sit-ins and protests with slogans like “freedom, freedom, freedom” were taking place at two dozen campuses in the capital Tehran and in major cities like Isfahan, Tabriz and Shiraz.

Kurdish human rights group Hengaw released videos allegedly showing security forces shooting at protesters in the city of Divandarreh, killing one protester. Reuters could not verify the videos.

The official IRNA news agency said protesters had damaged the home of Divandarreh’s top state-sanctioned cleric and the office of the local MP, adding that two people may have been killed in the violence.

Videos posted on social media are said to show protests in a number of cities in western, northwestern and central Iran, some during funerals for deceased protesters.

Protests also reached smaller communities. In Murmuri, a southwestern town of 3,500, the local governor told IRNA that about 150 protesters set fire to government buildings, banks and a post office before security forces restored order.

According to HRANA, 402 protesters had been killed in the riots as of Friday, including 58 minors. About 54 members of the security forces were also killed, it said. More than 16,800 people were arrested, it said.

State media reported last month that more than 46 security forces, including police officers, had been killed. Government officials have not provided an estimate of a larger number of deaths.

On Saturday, state television showed thousands attending at least four state-sponsored funerals for three Basij members, a police colonel, a seminary student and a border guard killed in recent unrest.

Iran’s strict judiciary has sentenced five protesters to death and said it would try more than 2,000 people charged with unrest, intensifying efforts to crack down on weeks of demonstrations.

Reporting by Dubai Newsroom Editors by Helen Popper and Nick Zieminski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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