- Tens of thousands of people gather in Berlin to support protests in Iran
- Crowd chants ‘Death to Khamenei’ at rally in Berlin
- Protests enter 6th week despite deadly crackdown
- Revolutionary Guards warn cleric of ‘unrest’ in southeast
BERLIN/DUBAI, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people marched through Berlin on Saturday to show support for protesters in Iran, where unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody has entered its sixth week despite deadly state repression.
The protests have posed one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s religious leaders since the 1979 revolution, even if they do not appear close to toppling a government that has deployed its powerful security apparatus to quell the unrest.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, died in the custody of vice police after being detained for “inappropriate dress”. Protests erupted at his funeral on September 17 in the Kurdish town of Saqez before spreading across Iran. Rights groups say more than 200 people were killed in the crackdown.
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Women played a prominent role, waving and burning veils. The deaths of several teenage girls who were allegedly killed in protests fueled further anger.
In Berlin, police estimated that 80,000 people joined the march, with protesters waving Iranian flags and holding banners reading “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Organizers said the Iranians came from the United States, Canada and across the European Union.
“From Zahedan to Tehran, I sacrifice my life for Iran,” human rights activist Fariba Balouch said after delivering a speech at the Berlin rally, referring to Iranian cities swept by protests. The crowd responded with “Death to Khamenei”, referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Anti-government activists said the Berlin march was the biggest ever protest against the Islamic Republic by Iranians abroad.
“I feel very good, because we are here to (say) ‘We are with you, with all the people of Iran’. I am the voice of Mahsa Amini,” said a protester who went by the name Maru.
Videos posted on social media – which Reuters could not independently verify – showed protests continuing across Iran in several cities, including Tehran, northeast Mashhad, northwest Mahabad, Dezful in the southwest and a number of universities across the country.
Videos showed protesters chanting in Sadeghieh neighborhood in western Tehran and setting fires in the streets of the capital’s Lalehzar neighborhood. Another showed cars honking at Mashhad and protesters chanting “Death to the dictator”.
Social media videos believed to be from Dezful showed youths chanting “Freedom, freedom, freedom” as they clashed with police in the predominantly Arab, oil-rich province of Khuzestan on the Iraqi border.
‘THE LAST WARNING’
Khamenei has warned that no one should dare think they can uproot the Islamic Republic, accusing his opponents of fomenting unrest. State television reported the deaths of at least 26 members of the security forces.
Some of the deadliest unrest has occurred in areas home to ethnic minorities who have long-standing grievances against the state. These include the province of Sistan-Balochistan in the southeast and its provincial capital Zahedan.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Saturday accused a senior Sunni cleric of agitating against the Islamic Republic and warned it could cost him dearly after holding officials including Khamenei responsible for dozens of deaths in Zahedan last month.
Amnesty International said security forces killed at least 66 people during a crackdown after Friday prayers in Zahedan on September 30.
Molavi Abdolhamid, Zahedan’s top Sunni cleric, said in his Friday sermon that officials including Shiite-dominated state leader Khamenei were “responsible to God” for the Sept. 30 killings. He described the killing as a massacre, saying bullets were fired at the head and chest.
A short statement on Sepah News, the official news site of the Revolutionary Guards, said: “Mr. Abdolhamid, encouraging and agitating the youth against the Holy Islamic Republic of Iran can cost you dearly! This is the final warning!
State media said at the time of the September 30 violence that “unidentified armed individuals” opened fire on a police station, prompting security forces to return fire.
The Revolutionary Guards said five members of its forces and the volunteer Basij militia were killed in the September 30 violence. Authorities blamed a Baloch militant group. Neither this group nor any other faction has claimed a role.
The protests had been fueled by allegations that a local teenage girl was raped by a police officer. Officials said the matter is under investigation.
After protests erupted again in Zahedan on Friday, Deputy Interior Minister for Security Majid Mir Ahmadi said calm had returned, the official IRNA news agency reported.
He said 150 “thugs attacked public property and even Sunni-owned shops”.
Rights groups say the government has long discriminated against ethnic minorities, including Kurds.
The state denies the charges of discrimination.
In Iran’s Kurdish region on Saturday, videos posted online showed shopkeepers on strike in several towns in the northwestern Kurdish region, including Sanandaj, Saqez and Bukan.
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Reporting by Dubai Newsroom and Victoria Waldersee, Leon Malherbe and Oliver Denzer in Berlin; written by Tom Perry; edited by Alex Richardson and Christina Fincher
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