Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi has warned universities of the dangers of foreign influence as anti-regime protests escalated and security forces and protesters clashed in Tehran.
Universities have become a focal point in protests that have swept the country since the mid-September death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a woman arrested by the morality police for alleged violation of the Islamic dress code.
“The enemy thought it could pursue its wishes in universities without knowing that our students and professors are well aware and would not allow materialisation of the enemy’s wishful thinking,” Raisi told students at the female-only Alzahra University on Saturday.
As he was speaking, some students on the campus chanted slogans critical of the president, according to videos posted on social media.
There were protests across Tehran as riot police and demonstrators clashed. “Death to the dictator,” chanted people in western Tehran near Sharif University.
For the first time since the protests began, merchants in the Grand Bazaar in downtown Tehran shut their shops to avoid damage to their property. Protesters had urged shopkeepers to join them by going on strike.
“This was one of the most violent days in the bazaar perhaps since 43 years ago when the revolution happened,” said one merchant. “I saw some women standing up to the police who were firing bird shots and tear gas but the women showed no fear.”
The bazaar has symbolic importance for Iranians as their support for the clergy was a crucial factor in the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979. Shopkeepers in Tajrish bazaar in northern Tehran also closed down following clashes there.
A young woman, who went shopping in the Grand Bazaar earlier on Saturday, said: “I felt that protesters are not fearful of anything. People’s anger seems bigger than their fears. It felt like I’d seen these scenes of the revolution.”
Videos on social media showed protests and clashes with security forces in the northwestern Kurdistan province as businesses shut down in Sanandaj, the province’s capital, and other towns including Saqqez, the hometown of Amini.
Iranian authorities announced on Friday that their investigations showed that Amini, 22, had not been hit during detention. A statement by the Iranian Legal Medicine Organisation did not clarify the cause of death. Amini’s family have rejected the official report and insist she was beaten by the morality police.
The country’s leaders believe that foreign enemies, notably the US and Israel, have been fanning the unrest. Iran has announced that the opposition’s scenario was to sustain the momentum and fuel public anger by creating martyrs.
A number of young women have died since the protests erupted.
Authorities say 17-year-old Nika Shakarami died when she fell from a rooftop. Her mother says she was killed during the protests. “They took away our Nika and brought us her dead body,” students in Amir Kabir University of Technology chanted on Saturday.
The death of 16-year-old Sarina Esmaeilzadeh has also prompted suspicion. Officials and her mother say she died by suicide. Protesters however say she was killed by the security forces.