TEHRAN: Nine people were killed overnight in unrest related to protests in the Isfahan region of central Iran, the state broadcaster reported on Tuesday.
Six protesters were killed in clashes with security forces as they tried to storm a police station in the town of Qahderijan, which has a population of around 30,000.
A member of the Revolutionary Guards was killed in nearby Kahriz Sang, and a passer-by in the town of Kahriz Sang — all in the region around the cultural centre of Isfahan.
Around 100 people were arrested overnight in the same region, Iranian state television reported.
Earlier reports had already said a policeman was killed and three others injured in Najafabad after being shot with a hunting rifle.
That brings the estimated death toll to 21 in unrest linked to the protests, that began last Thursday in second city Mashhad and quickly spread across the country.
The unrest has remained focused on provincial towns and cities, with only sporadic protests reported in Tehran on Monday evening.
The latest demonstrations came despite President Hassan Rouhani’s vow that the nation would deal with “rioters and lawbreakers”.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, described the unrest — the biggest challenge to the regime since mass protests in 2009 — as a “proxy war against the Iranian people”.
“Hashtags and messages about the situation in Iran come from the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia,” he told local media.
Iran’s intelligence ministry released a statement saying “instigators” have been identified “and will be dealt with seriously soon”.
The Revolutionary Guards have yet to fully intervene against the protesters, but published photos on Monday of three wanted people and called on the public to report any “seditionist elements”.
Rouhani has tried to play down the unrest, which began over economic grievances in second city Mashhad last Thursday but quickly turned against the Islamic regime as a whole with chants of “Death to the dictator”.
“This is nothing,” Rouhani said in a statement on the presidency website.
“Our nation will deal with this minority who chant slogans against the law and people’s wishes, and insult the sanctities and values of the revolution.”
Pro-regime rallies were held across several towns and cities — reflecting continued support among a large conservative section of society.
Reporting restrictions remained tight, but videos on social media continued to show widespread anti-government protests in many areas.
‘People have had enough’
A key difference from the last major protest movement in 2009, which began over allegations of election-rigging, is that the protests have not been focused on the capital Tehran and are much more dispersed.
Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but high living costs and a 12 percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.
The young are most affected, with as many as 40 percent out of work according to analysts, and rural areas particularly hard-hit.
“People have had enough, especially the young people. They have nothing to be happy about,” said Sarita Mohammadi, a 35-year-old teacher in Tehran.
“The situation is far worse in provinces. Agriculture has been destroyed. I know many who have left the north of the country to come to Tehran to work,” she added.
Rouhani acknowledged there was “no problem bigger than unemployment” in a speech on Sunday, and also vowed a more balanced media and more transparency.