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Rights group: 233 dead in Iran, protests enter fifth week

BAGHDAD – Protesters on Saturday intensified anti-government demonstrations along main streets and in universities in some cities across Iran. Human rights monitors reported hundreds of deaths, including children, as the movement entered its fifth week.

Protesters chanted ‘Down with the dictator’ on the streets of Ardabil in the northwest of the country. Outside the universities in Kermanshah, Rasht and Tehran, students rioted, according to videos posted on social media. In the town of Sanandaj, a hotspot for demonstrations in the northern Kurdish region, schoolgirls in a central street chanted: “Woman, life, freedom”.

The protests broke out after public outcry over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. She was arrested by Iran’s vice squad in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. The Iranian government maintains that Amini was not assaulted in police custody, but her family says her body showed bruising and other signs of beatings after she was detained.

At least 233 protesters have been killed since demonstrations in Iran on September 17, according to US-based human rights monitor HRANA. The group said 32 of the dead were under the age of 18. Earlier, Oslo-based Iran Human Rights estimated that 201 people have been killed.

The Iranian authorities have dismissed the unrest as an alleged Western conspiracy, without providing evidence.

Public anger in Iran has coalesced over Amini’s death, prompting girls and women to take off their mandatory headscarves in the streets as a sign of solidarity. Other segments of society, including oil workers, have also joined the movement, which has spread to at least 19 cities and has become one of the biggest challenges facing Iran’s theocracy since the country’s 2009 Green Movement.

Commercial strikes resumed on Saturday in key cities in the Kurdish region, including Saqqez, Amini’s hometown and the birthplace of the protests, Bukan and Sanandaj.

The government has responded with brutality, arresting activists and organizers of protests, reprimanding Iranian celebrities for their support, even confiscating their passports and using live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs to disperse crowds, leading to deaths.

A video that became widespread on Saturday shows Basij, a plainclothes paramilitary volunteer group, forcing a woman into a car and firing bullets into the air during a protest in Gohardasht, northern Iran.

Widespread internet outages have also made it difficult for protesters to communicate with the outside world, while Iranian authorities have detained at least 40 journalists since the start of the unrest, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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