At least 13 people have been killed in weekend protests in Iran, and armed protesters have tried to take over police stations and military bases, state TV reported Monday.
Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency Monday reported that a gunman killed one policeman and wounded three other officers during a protest gathering. The assailant used a hunting rifle to shoot the policeman in the central city of Najafabad, located about 320 kilometres south of Iran's capital, Tehran.
It's the first report of a police officer being killed during five days of protests and raises the total number of dead to 13.
Early on Monday, Iranian state TV said that 10 were killed during clashes Sunday night as security forces repelled what officials described as "armed protesters" trying to take over police stations and military bases.
Later Monday, state TV said six people were killed in the western town of Tuyserkan, 295 kilometres southwest of Tehran. It said three others were killed in the town of Shahinshahr, 315 kilometres south of Tehran. It did not say where the 10th person was killed.
As well, two demonstrators were killed during a protest in western Iran late Saturday.
The protests began Thursday in Mashhad and have since expanded to several cities. Hundreds of people have been arrested.
The protests began over economic issues, but in recent days, some protesters have chanted against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
State TV aired images of burning buildings, as well as an ambulance crew trying to aid a wounded person amid a crowd of shouting people. It also showed a fire truck that appeared to have been attacked and burned.
Unemployment remains high
Iran's economy has improved since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that saw the country limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars worth of Western aircraft.
That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 per cent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 per cent, which a government spokesperson has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.
While the protests have resulted in clashes, Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.
It wasn't immediately clear if the guard would change its posture given the reported attacks on police stations and military bases. In Tehran on Monday, streets were calm, though a heavy police presence was noticeable to passersby.
On Sunday, Iran blocked access to Instagram and the popular messaging app Telegram used by activists to organize. President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the public's anger over Iran's flagging economy, though he and others warned that the government wouldn't hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers.
That was echoed Monday by Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, who urged authorities to strongly confront rioters, state TV reported.
"I demand all prosecutors across the country to get involved and approach should be strong," he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting in support of protesters in Iran, continued into the new year, describing the country as "failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama administration."
"The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years," he wrote. "They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!"
While some have shared Trump's tweets, many in Iran distrust him as he's refused to recertify the nuclear deal and his travel bans have blocked Iranians from getting U.S. visas.