Iran restricts social media access

Iran restricts social media access

Iran cut access to social media on Sunday in a bid to head off further protests after days of unrest that saw two people killed and dozens arrested.

The interior minister warned protesters will "pay the price" as footage on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass demonstrations in 2009.

The spate of demonstrations began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and turned against the Islamic system as a whole, with slogans such as "Death to the dictator".

Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in clashes in Dorud on Saturday, but denied security forces were responsible.

There were no signs of major protests during the day on Sunday, though officials appeared to be bracing for unrest after dark.

In an apparent attempt to stave off more unrest, the authorities began blocking access to photo sharing and online messaging services on mobile phones, including Telegram, which the government accused of being used to foment violence, local media and Telegram's CEO said.

After an initial silence, state media has begun showing footage of unrest, focusing on young men violently targeting banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag.

"Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and pay the price," Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.

"The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted," he added.

US President Donald Trump said the "big protests" showed people "were getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism".

"Looks like they will not take it any longer," he wrote on Twitter, warning that Washington is "watching very closely for human rights violations!"

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he was "watching events in Iran with concern".

Iranian authorities have sought to distinguish anti-regime protesters from what they see as legitimate economic grievances.

"Do not get excited," parliament director for international affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a tweet directed at Trump.

"Sedition, unrest and chaos are different from gatherings and peaceful protests to pursue people's livelihoods," he said.

200 arrested

An official in Tehran said on Sunday that 200 people were arrested during the previous night's protests in the Iranian capital, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.

"These individuals are now with the judiciary and some others have been freed out of clemency," Ali Asghar Nasserbakht, a security deputy for Tehran's governor, said.

He said 40 of those arrested were "leaders" and that their protests had not been related to the economy.

"Some opposition groups from abroad make our youth emotional," he said.

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