Death toll rises in Iran amid wave of anti-government protests

TEHRAN, Iran — Two people were shot dead in demonstrations in Iran on Sunday evening, bringing the death toll to four in the biggest wave of unrest that the country has seen since 2009.

The two were killed in the southwestern city of Izeh, the area’s local member of parliament, Hedayatollah Khademi, told the semi-official ILNA news agency.

Khademi said he did not know whether the deadly shots were fired by security officials or protesters, according to the report.

Izeh is located in the oil-rich southern province of Khuzestan, just south of the Lorestan province where two other Iranians were killed in protests on Saturday evening.

The violence continued for a fourth day on Sunday despite President Hassan Rouhani’s appeal for calm. In a pre-recorded address aired on state TV, Rouhani said that while Iranians had the right to criticize authorities, the government would show no tolerance for those stoking unrest.

“We are a free nation, and according to the constitution and citizen rights, the people are free to express their criticism and even their protests,” Rouhani said.

“But criticism should not be accompanied with violence or vandalizing public property.” Rouhani also acknowledged public concerns over the economy and corruption.

Earlier, state-run media outlet IRIB reported that Iranian officials had temporarily restricted access to social media apps Instagram and Telegram, which have been used by Iranians to share news about the protests.

Social media has helped galvanize tens of thousands participating in the protests — described as the largest public display of discontent in Iran since the 2009 Green Movement, when people took to the streets to dispute the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The recent unrest stemmed from discontent over rising food and fuel prices, but has boiled over into a nationwide outcry against the government. In a rare act of defiance, some protestors have even called for the resignation of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Video shared on social media captured Iranians chanting “We don’t want an Islamic Republic” and “Death to the dictator.” CNN has not independently verified the authenticity of the footage, purportedly shot in the western city of Khorramabad.

US President Donald Trump voiced his support for the demonstrations in a series of tweets on Sunday. He posted: “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!”

Rouhani, who won re-election in May, said in his speech that Trump had been at the root of many of Iranian’s woes, “constantly creating problems” for people in the country since he entered the White House.