Tehran: Iran's Revolutionary Guards chief announced the "end of the sedition" on Wednesday as tens of thousands rallied in a show of strength for the country's Islamic rulers after days of deadly unrest.
General Mohammad Ali Jafari said the Guards only intervened "in a limited way" against fewer than 15,000 "trouble-makers" nationwide, adding that a large number had been arrested.
Protests over economic problems broke out in Iran's second city Mashhad on 28 December and quickly spread across the country, turning against the regime as a whole. A total of 21 people have died in the unrest, with protesters attacking government buildings and police stations in some areas.
"Today we can announce the end of the sedition," Jafari said, quoted on the Guards' website. "A large number of the trouble-makers at the centre of the sedition, who received training from counter-revolutionaries... have been arrested and there will be firm action against them," he said.
Jafari spoke after thousands of pro-regime demonstrators took to the streets. Chants of "Leader, we are ready" were heard as images showed thousands rallying in the cities of Qom, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and elsewhere.
The demonstrators waved Iranian flags and pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as placards saying "Death to seditionists".
AFP journalists reported a heavy police presence was still on the streets of Tehran, along with a large number of Revolutionary Guards.
General Jafari added those behind the protests had "intervened massively on social media" but that "once restrictions were started, the troubles reduced".
Telegram and Instagram were blocked on cellphones soon after the protests began on 28 December. Telecom Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi said Telegram would only be unblocked if it removed "terrorist" content. "I had mail exchanges with the head of Telegram and I told him that the continuation of Telegram's activities is conditioned on the suppression of terrorist content," he said.
There were few reports of anti-regime protests overnight, although it remained difficult to verify information from the provinces.
President Hassan Rouhani expressed hope in a phone call with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the protests would end in a few days, a Turkish presidential source said.
The political establishment has closed ranks against the unrest, saying the protests were part of a foreign plot to destabilise the regime. "The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation," Khamenei
said on Tuesday.
US president Donald Trump said Iranians were trying to "take back" their government, extending a drumbeat of encouragement for the protests. "You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!" he tweeted, without offering any specifics.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on the Iranian authorities to defuse tensions and investigate the deaths. "It is incumbent on the authorities that their actions do not provoke a downward spiral of violence, as occurred in 2009," he said in reference to the last major protest movement against alleged election-rigging.
Even reformists in Iran, who backed the 2009 protests, have condemned the violence and the support the demonstrations have received from the US. But they also urged the authorities to address economic grievances. "Officials must acknowledge the deplorable situation of the country as the first step to hearing the protesters," tweeted Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, whose father Mehdi Karroubi has been under house arrest for almost seven years for helping lead the 2009 demonstrations.
Many have been turned off by the violence, which has contrasted with the largely peaceful marches in 2009. But on the streets of the capital, there is widespread sympathy with the economic grievances driving the unrest, particularly an unemployment rate as high as 40 percent among young people.
Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 09:15 AM