- Elite Force Commander issues one of the starkest warnings yet
- Rights groups report new protests and bloodshed
- Revolutionary Guards not deployed since protests began
DUBAI, Oct 29 (Reuters) – The leader of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards has warned protesters that Saturday will be their last day to take to the streets in the clearest sign that security forces may step up a fierce crackdown on the unrest at national scale.
Iran has been plagued by protests since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police last month, posing one of the boldest challenges to clerical leadership since the revolution from 1979.
‘Don’t take to the streets! Today is the last day of the riots,’ guards commander Hossein Salami said in some of the harshest language used in the crisis, which Iran’s leaders blame on its foreign enemies , including Israel and the United States.
“This sinister plan is a plan hatched…in the White House and in the Zionist regime,” Salami said. “Don’t sell your honor to America and slap the security forces who defend you.”
Iranians have defied these warnings throughout the popular uprising in which women have played a leading role. Further bloodshed and protests were reported on Saturday.
Human rights group Hengaw reported that security forces fired on students at a girls’ school in the town of Saqez. In another article, he said security forces opened fire on students at a medical university in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province.
Several students were injured, one of whom was shot in the head, Hengaw said. Reuters could not verify the report.
Late Saturday, more protests erupted in the Kurdish town of Marivan, according to videos on social media that showed protesters setting fires in the streets as gunshots could be heard. Reuters could not verify the videos.
PROTESTERS ON TRIAL
The widely feared Revolutionary Guards, an elite force with an overwhelming record of dissent that reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have not been deployed since the protests began last month.
But Salami’s warning suggests Khamenei could unleash them in the face of relentless protests now focused on overthrowing the Islamic Republic.
Videos posted on social media by activist groups claimed to show protests at a number of universities across the country in cities including Kerman, Mashhad, Qazvin, Ahvaz, Arak, Kermanshah, Yazd, Bushehr and a dozen campuses in the capital, Tehran.
The militant HRANA news agency released a video it said showed protests at a university holding hands in a large circle and chanting: “If we don’t unite, we will be killed one by one.”
HRANA said 272 protesters were killed in the unrest on Friday, including 39 minors. Some 34 members of the security forces were also killed. Nearly 14,000 people were arrested in protests in 129 cities and 115 universities, he added.
A radical revolutionary court has opened the trials of some of the 315 protesters charged so far in Tehran, including at least five who are charged with capital offences, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The defendants include a man accused of hitting and killing a policeman with his car and injuring five others, IRNA said. He is accused of “spreading corruption on earth”, an offense punishable by death under Iranian Islamic laws.
Another man is charged with the capital crime of “moharebeh” – an Islamic term meaning war against God – for allegedly attacking police with a knife and helping to burn down a government building in a town near Tehran, IRNA added.
The court is headed by Abolghassem Salavati, a judge on whom the United States imposed sanctions in 2019 after accusing him of punishing Iranian citizens and dual nationals for exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly.
Salami issued his warning to protesters as he spoke at the funeral of victims killed in an attack this week claimed by Islamic State.
A man who the militant group says carried out the attack, which killed 15 worshipers at the Shah Cheragh shrine in the city of Shiraz, pledged allegiance to Islamic State in a video posted to his Telegram account on Saturday. Iranian officials said he died of injuries sustained during his arrest.
Reporting by Dubai Newsroom, additional reporting by Moaz Abd-Alziz in Cairo; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Helen Popper, Frances Kerry and Christina Fincher
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