TEHRAN: Protesters angry over a building collapse in Iran that killed at least 32 people have shouted down an emissary sent by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sparking a crackdown in which riot police clubbed demonstrators and fired teargas, according to videos posted online.
The demonstration directly challenged the Iranian government’s response to the disaster a week ago as pressure rises in the Islamic Republic over rising food prices and other economic woes amid the unravelling of its nuclear deal with world powers.
While the protests so far still appear to be leaderless, even Arab tribes in the region seemed to join them on Sunday, raising the risk of the unrest intensifying.
Ayatollah Mohsen Heidari AleKasir tried to address upset mourners near the site of the 10-storey Metropol Building but the hundreds that gathered on Sunday night instead booed and shouted.
Surrounded by bodyguards, the ayatollah, in his 60s, tried to continue but could not.
“What’s happening?,” the cleric stage-whispered to a bodyguard, who then leaned in to tell him something.
The cleric then tried to address the crowd again: “My dears, please keep calm, as a sign of respect to Abadan, its martyrs and the dear (victims) the whole Iranian nation is mourning tonight.”
The crowd responded by shouting: “Shameless!”
A live broadcast on state television of the event then cut out.
Demonstrators later chanted: “I will kill; I will kill the one who killed my brother!”
Tehran-based daily newspaper Hamshahri and the Fars news agency said the protesters attacked the platform where state TV had set up its camera, cutting off its broadcast.
Police ordered the crowd not to chant slogans against the Islamic Republic and then ordered them to leave, calling their rally illegal.
Video later showed officers confronting and clubbing demonstrators as clouds of teargas rose.
At least one officer fired what appeared to be a shotgun although it was not clear if it was live fire or so-called “beanbag” rounds designed to stun.
The details in the videos corresponded to known features of Abadan, located 660km southwest of the capital Tehran.
Foreign-based Farsi-language television channels described teargas and other shots being fired.