– VOA news, Ken Bredemeier Michael Lipin
Iranian state television says 12 people were killed overnight during anti-government protests, with President Hassan Rouhani vowing security forces would “respond to rioters and lawbreakers.”
Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested since protests broke out last week against economic conditions in the country and the government’s military ventures in Syria, Iraq and Yemen as part of a battle with Saudi Arabia for influence in the region.
State TV said, “Some armed protesters tried to take control of some police stations and military bases, but they met strong resistance from security forces.”
Rouhani declared, “The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society.”
New protests broke out as night fell on New Year’s Day in Tehran, the Iranian capital, with images of burning cars shown on local media.
In a speech to parliamentary leaders, Rouhani lashed out at foreign countries, including the United States, Israel and especially Saudi Arabia, for allegedly fomenting unrest in Iran.
“Our progress and success in the world of politics and against the U.S. and the Zionist regime was not bearable to them,” he said, while singling out Riyadh for “blatantly” saying it “will create problems in Tehran.”
Demonstrations erupted first last Thursday in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, and then spread to other parts of the country.
Rouhani minimized the unrest, saying, “This is nothing.”
He said, “Criticism and protest are an opportunity not a threat. 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. The people are absolutely free in expressing their criticisms and even protests. But criticism is different to violence and destroying public property.”