East Iranian city, scene of bloody crackdown, sees new protests

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — A southeastern city in Iran, the scene of a bloody crackdown over the past month, awoke to fresh destruction on Saturday, state television showed, after tensions erupted the day before.

Meanwhile, witnesses said anti-government protests erupted at several universities in Tehran on Saturday amid heavy security. The latest unrest in the nationwide movement was first sparked by the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s vice squad.

Though protests across Iran initially focused on the country’s mandatory hijab, they have escalated into the Islamic Republic’s biggest challenge since the 2009 Green Movement over disputed elections. Security forces have used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse gatherings, killing over 200 people, according to human rights groups.

In Zahedan, a southeastern city with an ethnic Baloch population, protests after Friday prayers have taken the city savage. Shops opened onto the street, their windows broken. Sidewalks were littered with broken glass. ATMs were damaged. Cleaning teams came out and swept debris from destroyed stores.

Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister for Security Majid Mirahmadi told state news agency IRNA that unrest in Zahedan had subsided on Saturday.

Violence erupted in the troubled city of Zahedan on September 30, a day activists say was the deadliest since the nationwide protests began. Outrage spread after allegations a Baluch teenager was raped by a police officer, sparking deep tensions in the underdeveloped region, home to the Sunni minority Shia theocracy.

Rights groups say dozens of people were killed on what residents call “Bloody Friday” when security forces opened fire on the crowd. The Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights puts the death toll at more than 90. Iranian authorities have described the Zahedan’s acts of violence as unnamed separatists without providing details or evidence.

As anger simmered over the deadly crackdown, riots flared up again in the city on Friday, according to video footage allegedly showing crowds gathering in Zahedan after midday prayers and shouting “I will kill the one who killed my brother! The extent of the clashes remained unclear, but Iranian state television broadcast footage of the aftermath, blaming 150 “rioters” for the trail of destruction.

IRNA said protesters shouted slogans, hurled rocks at motorists and damaged banks and other private property. Authorities said they arrested 57 protesters, among the estimated thousands who have ended up in jail over the protests. The provincial police commander, Ahmad Taheri, said the security forces were looking for other culprits.

Five weeks after the protests first erupted, further unrest threatened across the country. Security on the streets of Tehran was exceptionally tight on Saturday. Riot police armed with batons and members of the Basij militia were deployed near Tehran University and at key intersections in the capital.

Students at universities across the city rallied to chant against the government, according to witnesses who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. Similar demonstrations took place in the cities of Tabriz, Shiraz, Yazd and Mashhad on Saturday, according to videos posted on social media. At the downtown Yazd University of Arts and Architecture, footage allegedly showed students singing around a pool painted red to protest the authorities’ bloody crackdown.

A teachers’ union in Iran also called a nationwide strike on Sunday and Monday to protest the deaths and detentions of students in the country, the union said on Telegram.

“We know very well that the military and security forces are encroaching on the sanctity of schools and educational spaces,” the association said. “You have taken the lives of a number of students and children in the most horrific manner.”

Iranian officials have repeatedly blamed foreign interference for the protests without providing any evidence. On Saturday, Iran’s deputy chief of justice, Kazem Gharibabadi, vowed that Iran would file a lawsuit in a court in Tehran against the US government and London-based Farsi-language media over their alleged role in fomenting unrest.

“Because of America’s direct involvement and interference in the recent riots, a decision has been made to initiate a court proceeding to assess the damage and reach a verdict,” Gharibabadi told justice news website Mizan.news.

It is unlikely that such a lawsuit, like a series of previous Iranian cases against the US over years of hostility, would gain traction; There are no American assets to confiscate in the Islamic Republic.

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