U.S. airlines pull over passengers as protests grow in Iran
More than 1,500 people, most of them Iranian-Americans, have been arrested in the capital Tehran on charges of disrupting an election, state media reported on Sunday, amid widespread unrest in the Muslim-majority country.
The demonstrations, which are part of the country’s biggest demonstrations in more than two decades, have spread to the capital’s central train station and have led to the suspension of services on the countrys national airline, which has said it is taking measures to prevent further disruptions.
Authorities have not said how many people have been detained, but protesters have been calling on the government to hold elections within a month, while the main opposition Republican Guard has said the protests are illegitimate and must be stopped.
The protests began after the ruling party, which controls Iran’s parliament, passed a law last week that bans campaigning on public spaces.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the new law was aimed at ensuring public safety and safeguarding national security.
However, demonstrators have been camping on roads leading to the city of Qom and blocking roads leading into it, forcing authorities to close them.
They have also been blocking public gatherings in the eastern city of Bandar Abbas, and in Tehran.
Police in Iran say more than a thousand people have already been arrested since the elections law passed in January.
Many protesters are charged with obstructing public roads, and others face charges of “insulting the president”, the state-run IRNA news agency said on Sunday.
The new law also makes it easier for protesters to be arrested, and it requires that any protester who commits a crime can be jailed for up to two years.
In Tehran, the streets were quiet on Sunday as crowds of demonstrators continued to gather in the city center.
The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, who has been in the United States since the beginning of the year, said the country is in a “critical moment”.
Iran is a mainly Sunni Muslim nation where the country has long been the target of the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions against Tehran.
On Saturday, protesters took to the streets of the capital to protest against the vote, while at least one person was killed.
In Qom, demonstrators burned effigies of the president and other members of the ruling establishment and set fire to a local university building.
The country’s Islamic Republic-aligned President Hassan Rohani said in a televised speech that “the country is facing a difficult period” as protests over the election law “are gaining momentum”.
In the capital, the opposition Republican Guards staged a rally outside the main parliament building and held a rally in the central square.
The main opposition Iranian National Assembly (INA) said in an official statement that the vote was illegal and must halt.
“The Supreme Leader is aware of the events taking place in Iran and will ensure the peaceful implementation of the elections, and will not allow the opposition to seize power,” the statement said.
The election law is one of many controversial laws passed in recent months that have sparked widespread protests.
A poll by the IRNA said earlier this month that more than 50 percent of Iranians would vote against Rouhani, the first time the IRN has recorded a net change in its voting preferences.