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Iran protesters defiant despite crackdown

Iran protesters defiant despite crackdown

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PARIS: Protesters in Iran remained defiant in the fourth week of a movement against the Islamic republic despite a crackdown including the use of tear gas in Tehran and reports Monday of heavy weaponry used in the Kurdish-populated northwest, reports AFP.

Videos posted on social media indicated that protests flared at various points in the capital and other cities nationwide over the last days, with women seen burning headscarves and shouting slogans against the Islamic system.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish rights group Hengaw accused the authorities of using heavy weaponry, including shelling on neighbourhoods and machine gun fire, in the northwestern city of Sanandaj -- claims which could not be independently confirmed.

The unrest erupted over three weeks ago over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, an Iranian woman of Kurdish origin who died in hospital following her arrest by the notorious Tehran morality police who enforce the strict dress rules on women including compulsory headscarf.

Activists say she was beaten in custody, which is not confirmed by the authorities in Iran, who have ordered an investigation, and where a the medical report released blamed a pre-existing condition.

Outrage over her death sparked protests which have channelled anger among some Iranian women over the compulsory headscarf but have also seen repeated slogans against the Islamic system created by late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the ousting of the shah in 1979.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) posted videos it said were of protests in Tehran on Sunday, including at several universities including Amir Kabir and Azad.

Footage shared on social media, including by news site Iran Wire, said that students at the women's university Al-Zahra in Tehran had shouted slogans against the regime on campus during a visit by President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday.

Student at universities including Tehran Azad also painted their hands red to evoke the crackdown by the authorities on the protests, images showed.

State news agency IRNA said police used tear gas to disperse the crowds in dozens of locations in Tehran, adding that the demonstrators chanted slogans and set fire to and damaged public property, including a police booth.

Analysts say that the multi-faceted nature of the protests -- ranging from street marches to student strikes to individual actions of defiance -- has complicated attempts by the authorities to quell the movement.

This could make them an even bigger challenge to the authorities under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, than the November 2019 protests against energy price hikes that were bloodily put down.

One viral video said to show a woman bare-headed in defiance of the dress code, in a street in the northwestern city of Kermanshah with outstretched arms and offering free hugs to passers-by.

There have also been signs of labour unrest and videos broadcast by Persian media based outside Iran showed striking workers burning tyres outside the Asalouye petrochemical plant in the country's southwest.

Meanwhile videos have shown schoolgirls removing headscarves and taking down pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei in their classrooms. There have also been unverified reports that subsequently several of these pupils were arrested.

The protests first erupted in the Kurdistan region of northwestern Iran where Amini hailed from and activists have claimed that protesters have on occasion even taken control of some streets.

Norway-based Hengaw said that Iranian security forces had shelled and fired on neighbourhoods in the city of Sanandaj after protests overnight in several districts.

Gunshots were also heard in Amini's home town of Saqqez, it added.

AFP was no immediately able to confirm the veracity of the videos. Internet access remains patchy across the country due to restrictions which have particularly affected the north.

In an act of cyber defiance, the hacking group Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice) had posted an image during the main state TV evening news on Saturday of Khamenei in crosshairs and being consumed by flames.

The crackdown on the protests sparked by Amini's death has claimed at least 95 lives according to Norway-based group Iran Human Rights.

Another 90 people were killed by the security forces in Iran's far southeastern city of Zahedan from September 30 after protests sparked by the alleged rape of a teenage girl by a police chief in the Sistan-Baluchistan province, said IHR, citing the UK-based Baluch Activists Campaign.

Activists also accuse the authorities of carrying out a campaign of mass arrests and travel bans to quell the protests that have not spared even the famous.

Ali Daei, once the world's top international goalscorer in men's football, had his passport confiscated on returning to Tehran from abroad after bitterly criticising the Islamic republic on social media, Iranian media reported.