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UN Council To Debate On Iran Protests At U.S. Behest

At least 22 people have been killed and more than 1,000 were reportedly arrested in the demonstrations, which are the strongest challenge to Iran's leadership in almost a decade.

The United Nations Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting for January 5 to discuss Iran's street protests at the behest of the United States and over strong objections raised by Russia.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for the meeting earlier this week in what she said was a bid to "amplify" the message of the antigovernment protesters, while Russia said such a meeting would be "harmful and destructive."

"The UN must speak out" in support of the protesters, Haley said. "This is a matter of fundamental human rights for the Iranian people, but it is also a matter of international peace and security."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency on January 4 that "We see no role for the United Nations Security Council in this issue.... Iran's domestic affairs have nothing to do with the United Nations Security Council's role."

Ryabkov added that Russia believes any bid by the United States to try to increase UN sanctions on Iran over the protests would be "illegitimate."

Iran's UN ambassador, Gholamali Khoshroo, has also objected to what he characterized as meddling in Iran's internal affairs by the United States. He had no immediate response to the decision to hold the meeting.

Protests Appear To Abate

The UN debate was scheduled as Western news agencies reported an apparent lull in the street demonstrations, which entered their second week amid a heavy police presence on the streets of the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere.

At least 22 people have been killed and more than 1,000 were reportedly arrested in the demonstrations, which are the strongest challenge to Iran's leadership in almost a decade.

The French AFP news agency late on January 4 reported a heavy police presence on the streets of Tehran and said its reporters had not seen fresh antigovernment protests entering the late-night hours.

The report said limited activity on social media suggested that unrest in provincial towns was also down, although there was no way to confirm the reports.

The government has been blocking social media to disrupt the spread of information about the protests.

Videos from Tehran, Kazerun, Malayer, Nowshahr, and other cities appeared to show rallies against the country's leadership, though RFE/RL could not independently verify the date and authenticity of the reports.

Iranian pro-government supporters hold posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a rally in support of the regime in the city of Mashhad on January 4.
Iranian pro-government supporters hold posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a rally in support of the regime in the city of Mashhad on January 4.

The protests, which began over economic hardships suffered by Iran's youth and working class, have evolved into an uprising against the powers and privileges of what some critics call a remote elite, especially Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli on January 4 downplayed the number of protesters who have participated in the marches over the past week.

"The relevant authorities have reported that there have been, at most, 42,000 people, and that is not a very high number," the minister was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Iran's army chief asserted on January 4 that local police forces had mostly quelled the unrest, but he said army troops remain ready to intervene if needed.

"This blind sedition was so small that a portion of the police force was able to nip it in the bud [but] you can rest assured that your comrades in the Islamic republic's army would be ready to confront the dupes of the Great Satan [United States]," Major General Abdolrahim Musavi said.

Plea For Nonviolence

Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said the protests were continuing, however, despite such assertions, and she urged her countrymen to press on with their demonstrations in interviews published on January 4.

"People are still in the streets. Even if they go home, their anger would remain, and the protests would resurface months or years later," Ebadi said in an interview with Reuters.

"People should stop paying electricity, water, and gas bills. They should not pay their tax. They should withdraw their money from banks," said Ebadi, a human rights lawyer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

She told Reuters Iran's security forces should also ignore orders to repress the protesters.

"I call on my dear children in the police forces and the Revolutionary Guards to put down their guns and do not kill their own brothers and sisters. If the country's situation improves, you would also benefit from it," said Ebadi, who lives in exile in London.

"If the government has not listened to you for 38 years, your role has come to ignore what the government says to you now," Ebadi was quoted as saying in the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

The U.S. State Department on January 4 said that it condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the deaths and the arrests of protesters over the past week and vowed to punish government and security officials responsible for any violence against demonstrators.

"We support these legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people, and call on the government to allow the free exchange of ideas and information," the statement said.

"We have ample authorities to hold accountable those who commit violence against protesters, contribute to censorship, or steal from the people of Iran. To the regime's victims, we say, 'You will not be forgotten,'" it added.

Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International called on Iranian authorities to investigate reports that security forces have "unlawfully" used firearms against unarmed protesters and to protect hundreds of detainees from torture and other ill-treatment.

"Reports of the use of firearms against unarmed protesters by security forces are deeply troubling and would contravene Iran's human rights obligations under international law," Philip Luther, Amnesty International's research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on January 4.

"The Iranian government must promptly launch an effective and independent investigation into the killings and other reports of excessive or unnecessary force, and bring all those responsible for human rights violations to justice," he added.

Trump Chimes In

Even before the UN debate was scheduled, the protests had set off a diplomatic battle between the governments of Iran and the United States, with Tehran accusing Washington of stepping up "its acts of intervention in a grotesque way in Iran's internal affairs under the pretext of providing support for sporadic protests."

In a letter to the UN Security Council late on January 3, Iranian UN Ambassador Khoshroo charged that the United States had violated international law and the principles of the UN Charter, and urged countries to condemn Washington's statements.

"The president and vice president of the United States, in their numerous absurd tweets, incited Iranians to engage in disruptive acts," Khoshroo said in the letter addressed to the Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"The U.S. Department of State went so far as admitting that the U.S. government wants to encourage protesters in Iran to change their government, admitting that the U.S. is engaged in interfering with the internal affairs of Iran through Facebook and Twitter," he wrote.

The reaction from Iran came after Trump pledged to help Iranians "take back" their government and the White House weighed imposing sanctions on those involved in the crackdown against demonstrators.

Trump has issued Twitter statements several times in support of the protesters, including a tweet on January 3 that said he respected "the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government."

"You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!" Trump wrote in the post.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence backed up Trump's tweets, telling Iranians that they should view the United States as a "natural ally" in their quest for freedom and democracy.

"My goal…really my prayer is that the people of Iran -- a youthful population, a well-educated population -- understand that the United States of America, the people of this country are their natural ally. We want to see them achieve a free and democratic future. We want to see them step away from a regime that continues to menace the world," he said in a January 3 interview with Voice of America.

U.S. media, citing Trump administration officials, have reported that the United States is considering imposing new sanctions on Iran over the crackdown.

Iranian Prosecutor-General Hojatoleslam Mohammad Jafar Montazeri on January 4 identified what he said were U.S. and Israeli operatives who he claimed were the "masterminds" behind the unrest.

State-run IRNA news service quoted Montazeri as saying U.S. national Michael Andrea along with an "officer affiliated with [Israel's] Mossad spy agency" were "in charge" of the plot.

Montazeri described the American as being a "former CIA member" and said bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia "paid for all the expenses." Semiofficial Mehr news agency identified the man as "Michael D'Andrea."

The New York Times in June quoted current and former intelligence officials as saying that D'Andrea had been appointed to run the CIA's Iran operations.

Neither Montazeri's allegations nor the Times report could be independently confirmed.

The antigovernment protests, which started in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, began with crowds in cities across Iran airing grievances over the rising cost of food and other necessities, but quickly spread to expressions of anger against the government.

Early on January 3, Tehran organized a massive counterdemonstration with thousands of people pouring into the streets to voice their support for the government.

Thousands rallied again on January 4 in support of the government in various towns and cities, including in Mashhad.

While many of the antigovernment protesters had voiced opposition to Khamenei, with some chanting "death to the dictator," the counterdemonstrators chanted their support for the supreme leader, saying "The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader" and "We will not leave our leader alone."

With reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari, Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and Press TV