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As Iranian activists call for new protests, Khamenei says Islamic Republic is a ‘mighty tree’ that cannot be uprooted*

PARIS/DUBAI: Iranian activists have called for new nationwide protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, as the movement entered its fifth week on Friday despite a crackdown that has left dozens dead.

But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said no one should dare to think he can uproot the Islamic Republic.

Khamenei compared the Islamic Republic to an unshakable tree. “This seedling is now a mighty tree and no one should dare to think they can uproot it,” he told state television.

Outrage over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s notorious vice squad, has fueled the biggest wave of street protests and violence the country has seen since years.

Young women have been at the forefront of protests, shouting anti-government slogans, removing headscarves and clashing with security forces in the streets.

At least 108 people were killed in the Amini protests, and at least 93 others died in separate clashes in Zahedan, capital of southeastern Sistan-Balochistan province, according to the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group. .

The unrest continued despite what Amnesty International called a ‘brutal and relentless crackdown’ that included an ‘all-out attack on child protesters’ – resulting in the deaths of at least 23 minors.

There were fewer reports of people taking to the streets after Amini’s death on Friday, but hundreds of men were seen protesting after weekly prayers in Zahedan, in online videos verified by AFP.

Despite blocked access to internet services and platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp, activists on Saturday launched an online call for strong turnout in the protests under the slogan “The beginning of the end!”.

They called on Iranians to come to places where security forces are not present and chant “Death to the dictator”.

“We need to be in the squares because the best VPN these days is the streets,” they said, referring to virtual private networks used to circumvent internet restrictions.

In response, one of Iran’s main revolutionary bodies, the Islamic Development Coordinating Council, called on people to join a counter-protest after evening prayers on Saturday to “express their revolutionary anger against sedition and rioters. “.

The bloody crackdown has prompted international condemnation and new sanctions against Iran from Britain, Canada and the United States.

Khamenei accused the country’s enemies, including the United States and Israel, of fomenting the “riots”.

His government on Friday condemned French President Emmanuel Macron for remarks in which he expressed solidarity with the protests sparked by Amini’s death.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Macron’s remarks served to encourage “violent people and lawbreakers”.

He said it was “surprising” that France condemned Iranian security forces for dealing with “violent people and rioters” as it threatened to use force in response to “strikes in the oil and gas sector ” in his country.

“It’s plain hypocrisy,” he said.

Also on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed mass protests in Iran as he met with activists from the Islamic republic.

Blinken hailed the “remarkable displays of courage across Iran as women, youth and many others continue to defend the basic rights that continue to be denied to them by the Iranian regime.”

This week there was a call for “retirees” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to come together on Saturday given “the current sensitive situation”, according to a journalist from the Shargh newspaper.

In response to the protests, security forces carried out a campaign of mass arrests that targeted young activists, journalists, students and even minors.

School children were arrested in classrooms and ended up in “psychological centers”, Education Minister Yousef Nouri said this week, quoted by Shargh.

In a rare show of responsibility, the Tehran Police Department said on Friday it would investigate the conduct of an officer following allegations of harassment during the arrest of a woman protesting the death of Amini.

It came after video showed a male officer appearing to grope the woman from behind during her arrest, before she was eventually allowed to leave.

Some voices of support for the protesters came from within the country.

In an open letter published on the front page on Thursday, the reformist newspaper Etemad called on senior Iranian security official Ali Shamkhani to stop arrests under “sometimes false pretenses”.

Iranian authorities have held their own rallies attended by women dressed in black chadors, clothes that cover their heads and bodies.

An attempt to show they had the support of famous women collapsed overnight, after a photomontage of dozens of hijab-wearing people disappeared from a Tehran billboard within 24 hours of his erection, as it featured figures known to oppose the headscarf.

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