World

Huge pro-regime rallies in Iran as protests die down

Crowds march through cities days after anti-regime protests leave at least 21 dead

TEHERAN Tens of thousands gathered across Iran yesterday in a show of strength for the regime after days of deadly unrest, with state television showing crowds marching through several cities.

Chants of "Leader, we are ready" were heard as images showed thousands rallying in the cities of Ahvaz, Kermanshah and Gorgan.

The demonstrators waved Iranian flags and pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as placards saying "Death to seditionists".

"We offer the blood in our veins to our leader," was another popular chant.

There were few reports of anti-regime protests after the political establishment closed ranks against the unrest last week that left at least 21 dead.

Washington continued to exert pressure on the Islamic republic, with its UN ambassador Nikki Haley calling for emergency UN talks to discuss the situation.

Iran's leaders said the protests, which began over economic issues on Dec 28 but turned radical, were part of a foreign plot to destabilise the regime.

Even reformists, who backed the last major protest movement against alleged election-rigging in 2009, condemned the violence and the support it has received from the US.

But they also urged the authorities to address the economic grievances.

Many have been turned off by the violence, but there is widespread sympathy with the economic grievances driving the unrest, particularly an unemployment rate as high as 40 per cent for young people.

Others rejected the official line that foreign powers were behind the unrest.

"I don't agree. People have reached a stage where they can no longer tolerate this pressure from the authorities. They have burst and are now out in the streets," said Ms Soraya Saadaat, a 54-year-old unemployed woman. - AFP

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