Iran caught off-guarded on second day of country-wide protests

Iranians protest inflation govt 'mismanagement'

Hundreds of Iranians protested in the northeastern city of Mashhad against the rising cost of food and other essentials, with local authorities saying an unspecified number of people had been arrested.

In Mashhad, some chanted "not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran", a reference to what protesters say is the administration's focus on foreign rather than domestic issues.

Fars reported that protesters in Kermanshah chanted anti-government slogans such as "never mind Palestine, think about us", "death or freedom" and "political prisoners should be freed".

It came a day after 52 people were arrested in Mashhad, an important pilgrimage site, for protesting high prices and the poor state of the economy under President Hassan Rouhani. They damaged some public property before police dispersed them. Iranians based out of Tehran, Khorasan Razavi, Khuzestan, Fars and Isfahan provinces tweeted more than 11,000 times since the protests began on December 27. "They just want to ignites fires in different countries; they want to destabilize the region; they are playing with fire", he said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's response to the protests has been uncharacteristically subdued, leading some to sense weakness or cowardice in the face of public demands for accountable government.

Purely political protests are rare in Iran, where security services are omnipresent.

IRNA pointed out that other protests also took place in the cities of Neyshabur, Shahroud and Yazd.

Videos published by a small reformist media group, Nazar, showed people in Mashhad chanting "Death to Rouhani".

The report quoted the security deputy of Tehran's governor, Mohsen Hamedani, as saying that fewer than 50 people gathered at a public square in Tehran, and that majority left after a police warning but a few chose to stay on.

Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, a Rohani ally, suggested that hard-line opponents of the president may have started the protests in Mashhad.

Mohsen Nasj Hamadani, deputy security chief in Tehran province, said about 50 people had rallied in a square but most had left after being asked to by police, while a few who refused were "temporarily detained", the ILNA news agency reported.

Unemployment stood at 12.4 percent this fiscal year, according to the Statistical Center of Iran, up 1.4 percent from the previous year.

The promise of rebuilding the economy - shattered by years of sanctions and maladministration - has been the central plank of Rouhani's government since he first won power in 2013.

Mashhad was among the areas hardest hit by the closure of Mizan, which had around one million accounts, according to the official IRNA news agency.

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