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Thousands gather for pro-government rallies in Iran amid mass protests

Iranian counter-protesters have gathered across the country in a show of support for authorities after nearly a week of anti-government protests and unrest over the death of a young woman who was being held by the morality police.

A few thousand people attended a rally on Friday in the capital, Tehran, where they waved Iranian flags, and similar demonstrations were held in other cities. 

The pro-government demonstrators chanted against America and Israel, according to state media.

The government claimed the demonstrations of support were spontaneous. 

Anti-government protesters and security forces clashed in several major cities in the most severe political unrest since 2019, when rights groups say hundreds were killed amid demonstrations against a hike in state-controlled gasoline prices.

A state TV anchor said late Thursday that 26 protesters and policemen had been killed since the protests erupted last Saturday after the funeral of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, without elaborating on how authorities reached that figure. 

He said official statistics would be released later, but during past periods of unrest authorities have not provided a full accounting of deaths and injuries.

Most recently, the deputy governor of Qazvin, Abolhasan Kabiri, said that a citizen and paramilitary officer had been killed in unrest that rocked two cities in the northwestern province.

Iran has also disrupted internet access and tightened restrictions on popular platforms used to organise rallies like Instagram and WhatsApp.

READ MORE: Protests spread in Iran amid concerns over deadly crackdown

National nerve

Amini spent three days in a coma after being detained by the morality police for allegedly wearing her headscarf too loosely. The police said she died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account.

Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.

After she was pronounced dead, hundreds of Iranians flared and spread to major urban centres, including Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz.

Amini’s death has sparked sharp condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations and touched a national nerve. 

READ MORE: Iranian army vows to ‘confront enemies’ as deadly protests rage

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