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  1. By Farnaz Fassihi
  2. Nov. 16, 2019
  3.  
  4. Protests flared across Iran for a second day on Saturday, with angry crowds calling for the ouster of the regime in unrest incited by a steep increase in officially set gasoline prices but that quickly broadened to include other grievances.
  5.  
  6. At least six people were dead after security forces clashed with protesters, according to Persian language news outlets. Iran was also experiencing a “near-total national internet shutdown,” according to NetBlocks, which monitors cybersecurity.
  7.  
  8. “We don’t want an Islamic Republic, we don’t want it, we don’t want it,” demonstrators chanted in the middle-class Tehranpars neighborhood of Tehran.
  9.  
  10. Calling the protests “foreign instigated,” Tehran’s prosecutor warned Saturday that security forces would crack down harshly.
  11.  
  12. The protests erupted in dozens of cities after the government decided at midnight Friday to cut gasoline subsidies to fund handouts for Iran’s poor. That added to strains from American economic sanctions and the Iranian government’s mismanagement of the economy.
  13.  
  14. The protests then broadened to venting anger over other problems such as social repression and corruption.
  15.  
  16. Iran disrupted internet and cellphone service and halted phone-data reception, apparently trying to deter people from sharing information and organizing protests, according to NetBlocks.
  17.  
  18. “By shutting down the internet, the Iranian government isolates protesters from each other and from the rest of the world,” said Mehdi Yahyanejad, the director of NetFreedom Pioneers, a technology nonprofit, who is an expert on cybersecurity in Iran. “Oppression can then exist in a vacuum without on-the-ground solidarity or accountability.”
  19.  
  20. Under the price changes, the price for a liter of rationed gasoline rose to 15,000 rials, or about 13 cents, from 10,000 rials per liter on Thursday, and a monthly ration for each private car was set at 60 liters. Any purchases over that limit would be triple the previous price.
  21.  
  22. Gasoline in Iran still remains among the world’s cheapest.
  23.  
  24. Parliament said it had been blindsided by the new policy and called for an emergency meeting on Sunday. Lawmakers said they would introduce legislation to reverse the price hike.
  25.  
  26. Parvaneh Salahshouri, a reformist lawmaker representing Tehran, said lawmakers had been kept in the dark. She wrote on Twitter that Parliament was powerless to act and only a facade for a sham democracy. Many constituents called her office to complain, she said.
  27.  
  28. Several prominent Shiite clerics urged officials to backtrack before it was too late.
  29.  
  30. “This decision is very unfortunate and worrisome,” said a statement by Ayatollah Safi Golpaygani. “We ask that Parliament reverse this move.”
  31.  
  32. President Hassan Rouhani has said that the government will not benefit financially from the price increase because the money is to be returned to about 60 million needy Iranians in the form of cash subsidies. But hardly anyone across the political divide seemed to believe him.
  33.  
  34. Mr. Rouhani acknowledged days ago that Iran faced a deficit amounting to nearly two-thirds of its annual $45 billion budget.
  35.  
  36. Iranians took to the streets on Saturday on foot and in cars. On major highways and roads across Iran, people turned off their vehicles and sat for hours, intentionally creating backups for miles and miles.
  37.  
  38. “They are out of touch with the public,” said Minoo, who works at a cafe in Tehran but asked that her last name not be published out of security concerns. “Our transportation cost has now tripled, but our salaries remain the same.”
  39.  
  40. In Islamshahr, a small working-class city, crowds attacked a billboard of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Posts on social media showed that they had set it ablaze.
  41.  
  42. While insulting the supreme leader is an offense that can carry the death penalty, people did not seem to care.
  43.  
  44. “We are fed up,” they chanted.
  45.  
  46. In cities including Behshahr, Shiraz, Tehran and Karaj, protests turned violent when people attacked government buildings, set banks on fire, ripped the national flag and kicked and burned revolutionary monuments.
  47.  
  48. The police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire on Friday in Sirjan, a city some 500 miles southeast of Tehran, an Interior Ministry official there told state television.
  49.  
  50. The state-run IRNA news agency said “protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot,” The Associated Press reported. It quoted the official, Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, as saying, “They insisted on reaching the oil depot and creating crises.”
  51.  
  52. Around Iran, anti-riot police officers and security forces battled crowds on motorcycles and on foot, videos on social media and local news outlets showed. These accounts showed that in Karaj, a young man was shot in the head, while in Shiraz, security forces shot a young man, who collapsed to the ground, bleeding.
  53.  
  54. “They are firing on the people,” shouted the narrator of the video from Shiraz, his hands shaking as he documented the scene.
  55.  
  56. A widely shared flier urged Iranians to strike and create daily traffic jams on major roads by stopping their cars. In one video from Tehran, a truck driver carrying rock and dirt was shown stopping and dumping his haul in the middle of a three-lane highway. Passers-by cheered.
  57.  
  58. In Isfahan and Shiraz, public school was suspended Sunday after school bus drivers announced they would strike.
  59.  
  60. Protests tend to erupt in Iran every few years, but they usually lack organization and leadership. Eventually, they fizzle amid heavy-handed crackdowns and mass arrests.
  61.  
  62. Iranian opposition parties are in disarray, with domestic opposition leaders jailed and those abroad lacking legitimacy among most Iranians inside Iran.
  63.  
  64. A spate of economic protests that erupted in late 2017 led to nearly 5,000 reported arrests and the deaths of at least 25 people.
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