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Repression is not the answer, say protesters in Iran

After Friday prayers in Iran, pro-government demonstrators again took to the streets, following more than a week of anti-government protests and a show of force by government security details. Hari Sreenivasan explains what is fueling resentment toward the regime.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Popular unrest in Iran continues to spill into the streets. The nationwide protests have lasted for the better part of a week, exposing deep economic rifts, especially among the younger generation, who struggle to find work and build a future.

    Hari Sreenivasan explains what is fueling this resentment toward the regime and the government's response.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Overnight, video posted by protesters showed crowds in Tehran shouting "Death to Khamenei," the country's supreme leader.

    But, by morning, a different cry. Worshipers chanted "Death to America" at Friday prayers, and a hard-line cleric accused social media networks based in the U.S. of fueling the unrest.

  • Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (through interpreter):

    It was cyberspace that was kindling the fire of the battle. It was cyberspace that every moment said where protesters were gathering and what slogans they were chanting.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So far, these protests lack the scope of the 2009 Green Movement that saw hundreds of thousands accusing then-President Ahmadinejad of rigging his reelection.

    This time, for the last week, demonstrations have swept Iran's provinces to some 80 cities and towns mostly outside Tehran. It's in some of those areas where the country's economic stagnation is most sorely felt.

    President Hassan Rouhani had promised the 2015 nuclear deal would jump-start the economy by lifting punishing sanctions. Instead, growth continues to lag, food prices have gone up, and youth unemployment may run as high as 40 percent.

  • Parvaneh Alizadeh (through interpreter):

    It is their duty to hear us out. It is not acceptable for them to sit in their offices and not be aware of the prices of chicken, meat or rice, or not know how tough it has become for people to make a living.

  • Saboori (through interpreter):

    These shouts should be heard by officials. Unemployment is taking over. What wrongs have the young done to not be able to work?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The government has responded by organizing mass shows of support in cities across the country.

    One such rally was staged in Mashhad, the same city where the protests began eight days ago. Officials have also ordered a security crackdown. This cell phone video shows a volunteer force affiliated with the powerful Revolutionary Guard standing watch in the city of Zanjan.

    But many in Tehran say repression is not the answer.

  • Medi Marzani (through interpreter):

    People should be able to come out easily and voice their concerns in crowds, peaceful protests and demonstrations. This shouldn't be taken away from them. If these protests were calmer, I believe we would have better results.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Despite such sentiments, there has been violence in Isfahan Province. People set fire to a police station and a national bank.

    A university of Tehran professor sympathetic to the regime blames Western media for misrepresenting the protests.

  • Mohammad Marandi:

    Iran is a very normal society. It has people who are upset with different issues, like in any normal society. And they express them both at the ballot box and peacefully. And the rioters are not reflective of the will of the majority of Iranians.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Other analysts say frustration with President Rouhani and the Islamist regime is real and change is overdue.

  • Anoush Ehteshami:

    He hasn't been able to provide the opportunities that people are wanting. The only silver lining, if you like, is that Rouhani may well use the protests as a pressure point to push the hard-liners and the leader towards accepting more reform and more change.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This afternoon, the U.N. Security Council met in emergency session to discuss Iran, at Washington's request. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the situation troubling and dangerous.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

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