NEW YORK – Three demonstrators were shot dead by the Revolutionary Guard Corps as protests spread across Iran for a third night on Saturday, intensifying their calls for an end to the government’s costly expansionist projects across the Middle East, the corruption within its ranks and the Islamic Republic itself.
The demonstrations marked the nation’s first wave of serious public unrest since a violent crackdown by regime forces quelled dissent in 2009.
Marches that began as annual state-sponsored events for the airing of public discontent took on a different tone as protesters in more than 1,200 cities and towns called for the removal of the nation’s supreme leader, whose position of absolute power in Iran has determined the country’s fate since Islamists took control of its government in 1979.
The three protesters were reportedly shot dead as posters of the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were torn and pilloried.
Supporters of the Islamic government characterized the protests as small, scattered and largely focused on high unemployment and a scourge of corruption that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is fighting himself.
Critics of the regime say protesters from 2009’s Green Revolution are returning to the streets with unfinished business – a reckoning for a theocratic dictatorship unable to deliver for its people.
While the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on Saturday night regarding the protests in Iran, Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said they were no surprise.
“Iran is wasting billions of dollars funding Hezbollah, Hamas, the Assad regime and terrorism throughout the world, rather than investing in the Iranian people,” Erdan posted on his Twitter account. “It’s no wonder that many Iranians are bravely standing up and speaking out against the Iranian leadership,” he said.
The Trump administration warned Tehran not to arrest or attack peaceful protesters, as video emerged of the demonstrations featuring violence from Iran’s Basij militia and a heavy presence of armed forces.
The State Department said the Islamic Republic had robbed its people of its historic wealth, and US President Donald Trump tweeted that “The world is watching!”
“Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves,” he wrote.
But Tehran’s state media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi as saying in response: “The Iranian people see no value in the opportunistic claims by American officials and Mr. Trump.”
The semi-official news agency Fars said as many as 70 students gathered in front of Tehran University on Saturday and hurled rocks at police. A social media video showed them chanting “Death to the dictator,” an apparent reference to Khamenei.
Footage later showed riot police clubbing and arresting the protesters. ISNA news agency said a group of government supporters also gathered outside the university as police tried to disperse protesters. Authorities closed two nearby metro stations “until the end of the unrest,” ISNA said.
Another video appeared to show security forces arresting demonstrators in another part of Tehran, with protesters shouting “Let him go! Let him go!”
State TV claimed that most of those detained had already been freed, but it offered no details or numbers.
On social media, flyers for a fourth day of protest were already circulating widely. Iran’s Information and Communications Technology minister on Saturday pressured Telegram, a messaging app popular in Iran, to shut down certain channels that were promoting what he characterized as violence against the government.Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.