Iran’s parliamentary speaker has warned that protests over the death of a young woman in police custody could destabilise the country, and urged security forces to deal harshly with those who he said endanger public order.
Posts on social media showed there were scattered anti-government protests in Tehran and running clashes with security forces in other towns on Sunday, even as the government moved to partly or entirely block internet connectivity in Iran.
Parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf told legislators that unlike the current protests, which he said were aimed at toppling the government, previous demonstrations by teachers and retirees over pay were aimed at reforms.
Mr Qalibaf said: “The important point of the (past) protests was that they were reform-seeking and not aimed at overthrowing (the system).
“I ask all who have any (reasons to) protest not to allow their protest to turn into destabilising and toppling (of institutions).”
Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets to protest over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by Iran’s morality police in the capital Tehran for allegedly not adhering to Iran’s strict Islamic dress code.
The protesters have vented their anger over the treatment of women and wider repression in the Islamic Republic. The nationwide demonstrations rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
Demonstrations against Ms Amini’s death have also taken place in other countries including Turkey, Lebanon and France.
Iranian state TV has reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the demonstrations began on September 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
Mr Qalibaf is a former influential commander in the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Along with the president and the head of the judiciary, he is one of three ranking officials who deal with all important issues of the nation.
The three meet regularly and sometimes meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.
Mr Qalibaf said he believes many of those taking part in recent protests had no intention of seeking to overthrow the government in the beginning and claimed foreign-based opposition groups were fomenting protests aimed at tearing down the system.
Iranian authorities have not presented evidence for their allegations of foreign involvement in the protests.
“Creating chaos in the streets will weaken social integrity, jeopardising the economy while increasing pressure and sanctions by the enemy,” Mr Qalibaf said, referring to long-standing US sanctions on Iran.
He promised to “amend the structures and methods of the morality police” to prevent a recurrence of what happened to Ms Amini.
She died in the custody of the morality police. Her family alleged she was beaten, while officials claim she died of a heart attack.
His remarks came after a closed meeting of parliament and a brief rally by lawmakers to voice support for Khamenei and the police, chanting “death to hypocrites”, a reference to Iranian opposition groups.
The statement by Mr Qalibaf is seen as an appeal to Iranians to stop their protests while supporting police and the security apparatus.
Meanwhile, the hard-line Kayhan daily newspaper said on Sunday that knife-carrying protesters attacked the newspaper building Saturday and shattered windows with rocks. It said they left when Guard members were deployed to the site.
Protests resumed on Sunday in several cities including Mashhad, according to social media reports, and Tehran’s Sharif Industrial University, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Witnesses said security was tight in the areas nearby Tehran University and its central areas as hundreds of riot police and plain clothes officers were stationed on junctions and squares.
Ms Amini was an Iranian Kurd and the protests first erupted in Kurdish areas.