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Hundreds detained in Iran as Trump renews attack on regime

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei delivers a speech during his meeting with families of martyr’s on Jan. 2, 2018 in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei said that the country’s enemies have meddled in recent protest rallies. (SalamPix/Abaca Press/TNS)

TEHRAN, Iran — Hundreds of people involved in protests roiling Iran since last week have been detained as authorities clamp down on unrest.

Since Saturday, 350 people have been held in the capital Tehran, Aliasghar Naserbakht, the province’s deputy for political and security affairs, told the Iranian Labor News Agency. Nine people were killed in various cities during clashes on Monday, according to state-run television, bringing the overall death toll to about 20.

The unrest began on Thursday with a rally against rising prices and the government’s handling of the economy, before turning into a wider protest against the political establishment. U.S. President Donald Trump, a vocal critic of Iran who has threatened to abandon the 2015 nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic, again tweeted his support to the Iranian people.

“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” he said. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.'”

Trump’s tweets on the protests have drawn both anger and ridicule from Iranians, who point to the inconsistency between his apparent support for them and his policy to bar them from getting a U.S. visa. Iranian politicians are likely to use the president’s remarks to suggest that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival, are stoking unrest to weaken the Islamic Republic.

The protests are a rare public display of anger against a political establishment that has kept a tight grip on power since the 1979 Islamic Revolution against the pro-Western shah. The demonstrations, however, are smaller than the 2009 protests against presidential election results and do not pose an “existential” threat to the regime, according to Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council.

Authorities have said there will be little leniency over violence. Iran’s Judiciary Chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, ordered prosecutors to take “serious measures” in dealing with rioters vandalizing public properties during the recent protests, Tasnim news agency reported.

“I don’t think it will lead to a revolutionary situation,” Parsi told Bloomberg TV. “It doesn’t seem to have the organization and the leadership to really pose an existential threat to the regime, but it can really force to change the conversation and shake up the political landscape.”

While Iran’s president is elected every four years by a popular vote, his influence is kept in check by unelected officials within the judiciary and the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose job is to protect the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ultimate authority rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In his first remarks since the protests broke out, Khamenei accused Iran’s enemies of stoking unrest, without naming anyone.

“Over the last few days, Iran’s enemies have used various tools at their disposal including money, weapons and security bodies in order to create problems for the Islamic system,” he said.

Hassan Rouhani, who was elected to a second term last year, promised voters to improve living conditions after the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers. His supporters point to a dramatic drop in the inflation rate to about 10 percent from more than 40 percent under his hard-line predecessor.

Foreign investments, however, have been slow to follow, with investors concerned about Trump’s threat to tear up the accord.

“If there is a kind of scapegoat to Iran’s economic problems post the nuclear deal, it would be the U.S. administration,” Jean-Paul Pigat, Dubai-based head of research at Lighthouse Research, told Bloomberg TV. “Donald Trump continues to threaten to renegotiate the nuclear deal. That does not encourage foreign investors to enter the market.”

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