Iran protests: Hassan Rouhani breaks silence after Iran authorities block access to social media

Response follows demonstrations that leave at least two dead

Two protesters in western Iran killed at night rally

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said citizens are “absolutely free to criticise the government” amid the fourth day of nationwide protests.

Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated across the country since Thursday against the Islamic Republic’s unelected clerical elite, a weak economy and Iranian foreign policy in the region. They have also chanted slogans in support of political prisoners.

“The government will show no tolerance for those who damage public properties, violate public order and create unrest in the society,” Mr Rouhani said.

“People are absolutely free to criticise the government and protest but their protests should be in such a way as to improve the situation in the country and their life.”

“Criticism is different from violence and and damaging public properties,” he added.

The Iranian president also acknowledged the public's worries extended beyond the economy to corruption allegations and government transparency.

Iranian authorities temporarily blocked mobile phone access to Instagram and the messaging app Telegram to “maintain peace” amid anti-government protests, state TV reported.

The reported move to stifle internet access drew a rebuke from Donald Trump, who has regularly criticised Iran's leadership. He described the clampdown as “not good'.

At least two people were killed on Saturday in the country’s biggest protests since 2009. Many of the demonstrations have been started and promoted using Telegram.

Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazil, said authorities would respond to the “spreading of violence, fear and terror”.

As the Iranian government stepped up efforts to clamp down on the demonstrations, Mr Trump tweeted: “Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”

Pavel Durov, Telegram’s chief executive, confirmed access to the app had been restricted.

He wrote on Twitter: “Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down [one of the main channels] and other peacefully protesting channels.”

The company did agree to close one channel on Saturday after Iranian authorities claimed people were using it to incite violence.

Iranian state news website Irib News quoted an unnamed source as saying: “With a decision by the Supreme National Security Council, activities of Telegram and Instagram are temporarily limited.”

Facebook, which owns Instagram, is yet to respond to the shutdown.

Protests began on Thursday and had included tens of thousands of people, although appeared to have died down on Sunday.

The initial clashes were over economic difficulties, rising food prices and alleged corruption among the elite, but there were also demands for the country’s unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to resign.

Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting: “Mullahs, have some shame, leave the country alone.”

Two protesters in western Iran killed at night rally

As protests continued, at least two people were killed in clashes in the city of Doroud, 200 miles south-west of the capital Tehran.

The province’s security chief, Habibollah Khojastepour, denied they had been shot by police.

“No bullets were shot from police and security forces at the people,” he said.

“We have found evidence of enemies of the revolution, [militant] groups and foreign agents in this clash.

“The gathering was to be ended peacefully, but due to [their] presence, unfortunately this happened.”

The UK’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, said he was “watching events in Iran with concern”.

He wrote on Twitter: “Vital that citizens should have the right to demonstrate peacefully.”

In an attempt to appease public concerns, the Iranian government scrapped plans to raise fuel prices, agreed to increase cash payments to the poor and pledged to create at least 830,000 new jobs in the next year.

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