Protests in Iran have spread for a second consecutive day after student-led demonstrations and clashes with police at a Tehran university Saturday saw crowds chanting "death to liars!" and "Khamenei] resign, resign!" They are demanding that Iran's leaders, including Ayatollah Khamenei step down over their initially concealing the truth about the accidental Ukrainian airline shoot down, which killed all 176 people on board.
The initial hundreds or possibly thousands strong gatherings in Tehran spread to other cities amid a broad heightened security response which the day prior saw authorities briefly detain the British ambassador, reports Reuters; however, the size still pales in comparison to the tens of thousands which took to the streets in November, and more recently the some two million which took to the streets in support of slain IRGC Quds chief Qasem Soleimani during his funeral.
Riot police have been deployed to the University of Tehran campus after fresh protests there, with reports of tear gas and after the previous day opposition social media accounts advanced unconfirmed claims that live fire was being used. On this point, President Trump had an early Sunday message for the Islamic Republic's leaders and security forces:
To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2020
But it also appears that some counter-protests have begun in Tehran, as The Guardian notes that "Pro-regime protesters also gathered outside the UK embassy calling for its closure after the British ambassador to Iran was briefly detained on Saturday evening after leaving the site of a demonstration."
Upon the very start of the new protests over the airline downing, Trump on Saturday issued a series of tweets in English and Farsi voicing support for what was as that moment a mere hundreds in the streets, crowds which appear to have since grown.
“To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you,” he tweeted. “There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching.”
Given we appear possibly set for a November repeat, which saw hundreds killed at the hands of Iranian security according to most international reports and human rights organizations (though the US claimed at the time the dubious number of up to 1,000), local security forces aren't taking any chances.
At the height of the Iranian establishment anti Americanism, Tehran Beheshti university’s students refused walking over the US and Israel flag while participating in #IranProtests . They all grew up to hate the two countries but seems like the revolutionary ideology is failed. pic.twitter.com/ABQY3GzWMo— Ali Hamedani (@BBCHamedani) January 12, 2020
Iranian security forces stepped up patrols in Tehran, seeking to quell further anti-government protests after the regime admitted downing a Ukrainian passenger jet, triggering anger on the streets and global outrage.
Videos on social media, which couldn’t immediately be verified by Bloomberg, showed motorcycle-mounted security forces in green camouflage and anti-riot body armor stationed on the city’s Valiasr square on Sunday morning. There was also a heavy police presence outside Tehran university.
Meanwhile, in an interview with CBS' Face the Nation, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he doesn't expect more retaliatory missile strikes out of Iran.
The US State Department is poised to make much of these initial weekend student protests, though it's as yet unclear if they will gain in momentum.
"You can see the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government - a different regime," he said of the weekend protests, also echoing prior similar statements from Pompeo.
Jan 12, Tehran, #Iran— Iran News Wire (@IranNW) January 12, 2020
Students of Alame Tabatabaie University chant against the regime's state-run TV for deceiving the public for the past 3 days saying that flight #PS572 crashed due to "technical reasons".
"Our state-run TV is our disgrace", they chant. #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/BqjPQxk4w0
Should the momentum of the protests carry into this coming week, Iran's leadership will likely brace for the worst given Trump is publicly backing anti-regime demonstrations, and the proverbial gloves of the security forces will be coming off.