Women hold posters of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a pro-regime rally in second city Mashhad on January 4
Tehran (AFP) - Pro-regime rallies were due to reach Tehran Friday with authorities seeking to put the past week’s unrest to bed, as Washington slapped fresh sanctions on Iran and called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting.
Iranian officials blamed a plot by the CIA, Israel and Saudi Arabia for the unrest that convulsed much of the country for five days – part of the increasing tensions playing out between Iran and its neighbours since President Donald Trump came to power.
Forty rallies were expected across the province of Tehran after Friday prayers, building on huge marches in many other cities over the previous two days in support of the government, which has declared the deadly unrest over.
The US imposed sanctions against five Iranian firms alleged to have been working on an illegal ballistic missile programme, linking the move to the protests.
“These sanctions target key entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which the Iranian regime prioritises over the economic well-being of the Iranian people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
On the streets of Tehran, a heavy police presence lingered though there were no reports of fresh protests overnight.
Maps of Iran comparing demonstrations for and against the government since December 28, 2017.
There were some reports of small anti-government demonstrations in provincial towns, but these could not be verified.
Police asked people to send photos and videos of “trouble-makers”, local media reported, and to identify a number of suspects already caught on camera.
It remains difficult to gauge who was involved in the unrest that began December 28, claiming 21 lives – mostly protesters – and leading to hundreds of arrests.
President Hassan Rouhani’s supporters have blamed conservative rivals for stoking anger over economic issues, which quickly grew out of control and saw attacks on security forces, government buildings and symbols of the regime.
Iranians gather next to a replica of a Ghadr medium-range ballistic missile during a demonstration outside the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 4, 2017
The conservatives deny the accusations and say Rouhani must do more to help the poor, with parliament already moving to repeal an unpopular fuel tax hike in his recent budget.
The UN Security Council was set to hold an emergency meeting on the issue later Friday at the request of the United States.
Russia criticised the United States for calling the meeting and it remained unclear if other council members would try to block it via a procedural vote.
- ‘CIA plot’ -
Chief prosecutor Mohamamd Jafar Montazeri blamed the unrest on a plot dating back four years by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“The main architect of this plan is Michael D’Andrea,” Montazeri said, referring to the head of Iran’s CIA desk.
“They launched (social media) campaigns with the theme of ‘no to high prices’, ‘no to paying bills’,” he said, adding that the plan was to start unrest in the provinces before moving on Tehran.
Montazeri also claimed there were efforts to infiltrate the Islamic State group into the country.
Nonetheless, many officials have recognised the genuine economic grievances of many Iranians, particularly a jobless rate at close to 30 percent for young people.
Many have called on Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (C) to address the economic grievances that sparked days of deadly unrest
“The people’s main demand now is for the government and officials to deal with the economic problems,” Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the semi-official ISNA news agency on Thursday.
Iran’s economic growth rebounded to more than 12 percent last year after sanctions were lifted under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but analysts say much of the windfall has come from renewed oil sales that generate few jobs.
The head of the army, General Abdolrahim Mousavi, thanked security forces for “putting out the fire of sedition”.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said 42,000 people had taken part in the unrest nationwide.
It was higher than a previous figure of 15,000 given by the head of the Revolutionary Guards, but still far below the hundreds of thousands that took to the streets during the last major protest movement in 2009.
- Nuclear waivers -
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly tweeted his backing for the protesters, his most recent saying he has “such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government”.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted back: “Trump has an odd way of showing ‘such respect’.”
“From labelling them a ‘terrorist nation’ and banning them from visiting the US, to petty insults on the name of the Persian Gulf,” he wrote, referring to Trump’s use of the term “Arabian Gulf”.
An Iranian woman walks through tear gas during a protest driven by anger over economic problems at the University of Tehran on December 30, 2017
Russia jumped to Iran’s defence, with deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov telling state agency TASS: “Despite the many attempts to distort what is really going on (in Iran), I am sure that our neighbour, our friend, will overcome its current difficulties.”
The question now is whether Trump will continue to waive nuclear-related sanctions suspended under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Under the deal, Trump must actively lift certain sanctions every few months and the next deadline falls on January 12.