Iranian cities saw tens of thousands of government supporters hold preplanned rallies on Saturday, to mark the eighth anniversary of a crackdown on mass public unrest that followed the disputed 2009 election.

State television showed footage of crowds of hard-liners in the capital, Tehran, while many carried banners in support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad.

Saturday’s pro-regime rallies, which take place every year, offered a mass show of support for the country’s religious leaders, just as a new wave of unrest was brought under control during anti-government protests over the previous two days.

Sparked by a sudden surge in the price of basic food supplies, anti-regime protesters took to the streets of several towns and cities complaining that economic reforms, promised by President Hassan Rouhani when he took office in 2013, have been slow to materialize. Cuts to welfare and fuel price increases, announced earlier this month, have compounded their woes.

Several videos were posted to social media showing anti-government protesters chanting “Free political prisoners” and “Death to the dictator,” in an apparent reference to Khamenei.

Dozens of people were arrested during clashes with police on Thursday and Friday in the cities of Mashhad, Rasht, Hamedan, Kermanshah, Qazvin and elsewhere.

Third day of protests

On Saturday, hundreds of students and other supporters staged a small protest at Tehran University. Witnesses said riot police stood guard at the gates of the main campus.

Social media postings appeared to show several other protests continuing for a third day on Saturday.

As well as economic issues, protesters lamented the country’s involvement in regional conflicts, including the financial and military backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while domestic issues stayed unresolved.

In response to the growing anger, Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli on Saturday cautioned the public not to participate in “illegal gatherings,” saying they would “create problems for themselves and other citizens.”

Other Iranian ministers quickly blamed the US and other outside forces for the latest unrest. Hard-liners suggested the new wave of protests could be the work of counter-revolutionaries, while reformers blamed a small group of hard-liners who they said were trying to harm the government.  

Warning from Trump

On Twitter, President Trump warned Iran’s leaders that “the world is watching,” a veiled threat that sought to deter a similar crackdown to the one that took place following the disputed 2009 presidential election.

“Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption and its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad,” he wrote, adding that the Iranian government “should respect their people’s rights, including (the) right to express themselves.”

Iran’s foreign minister responded that Trump’s support for the protesters was “deceitful and opportunist.”

In 2009, dozens of people were killed and more than 4,000 arrested when Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and its Basij militia spearheaded a violent crackdown against reformers, who were angry at what they said was an election stolen by then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hillary Clinton weighs in

On Saturday evening, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also tweeted about the Iranian protests.

“The Iranian people, especially the young, are protesting for the freedom and future they deserve,” she said. “I hope their government responds peacefully and supports their hopes.”

This article was originally published on DW.com. Its content is separate from USA TODAY. 

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