November 29, 2023

Persian News

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Red Wednesday: Anti-government protests erupt across Iran during celebration of fire festival

A wave of anti-government protests erupted in Iran on a popular holiday celebrated with fireworks.

Iranians across the country marked the Zoroastrian holiday of “Red Wednesday” by tossing fireworks at security forces, throwing hijabs into bonfires, singing anti-government songs and chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“This year is a year of blood,” a boisterous crowd gathered in the northern Iranian city of Rasht chanted. “Seyed Ali [Khamenei] will be overthrown.”

Red Wednesday begins on the final Tuesday night of the Persian calendar year, and is often celebrated by setting off fireworks and jumping over bonfires, a ritual that often leads to injures. Iranian state media reported on Wednesday that 15 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured while celebrating the fire festival.

The protests, on Tuesday night and into early Wednesday, are a continuation of the wave of unrest spared by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini six months ago. The 22-year-old’s death following her arrest by the morality police sparked an outcry, both within Iran and the wider international community. The surge of opposition has bridged Iran’s ethnic, sectarian, regional and social cleavages, posing one of the biggest challenges yet to the clerical regime in its 44 years. More than 400 people have been killed in the crackdown.

Facing intensive repression which has led to smaller turnouts, activist leaders inside the country had previously called on protesters to avoid the streets for now. But anger at the country’s political repression and economic failures has been boiling beneath the surface. Students, professors and others recently protested the government’s handling of a series of alleged mass poisonings of girls’ secondary schools.

Activists had called on Iranians to use the annual nighttime pre-New Year celebrations to stage anti-government gatherings, and police had braced for disruptions. Video showed young Iranians throwing fireworks at security forces passing by on motorcycles.

Officials have sought to tamp down protests with thousands of detentions that rights activists say is leaving prisons dangerously overcrowded.

Judiciary Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei announced on Monday that 22,628 people arrested during recent protests had been pardoned or had their sentences commuted by order of Mr Khamenei.

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