Vancouverites rally to support Iran protests
B.C. locals look anxiously abroad as Iran protests swell
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As protests continue to swell in Iran, leaving at least 13 dead, many of Vancouver's estimated 35,000 Iranian-Canadian residents are watching anxiously.
On Monday, four days after Iran's protests started over rising household prices, Vancouverites held a support rally on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The last time their country saw such unrest was after Iran's 2009 election, when massive rallies sparked police killings, thousands of arrests, and a wave of political refugees.
"The regime is kiling people and putting our young people in jail," North Vancouver resident Sanaz Safa said in an interview as she helped hold up both Canadian and pre-1979 Iranian flags on the gallery steps, facing a small but noisy crowd of roughly 50. "The last time … there was no support from any country. Our people need any support they can get for this revolution right now."
The protests began Thursday in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, under the slogan "No to high prices," with many criticising International Monetary Fund-backed austerity cuts. But as rallies spread — and crowd-control police responded with force — the original message broadened to include opposition to the government itself.
Burnaby resident Golsa Golestaneh, whose parents fled political persecution in Iran after the 2009 protests, told Metro she attended to show her support for Iranian protesters, including friends she visited this summer.
She said Iran has restricted Internet communication between protesters and their allies abroad.
"A lot of my friends are going to the streets," she told Metro. "… I really wish I could be there, because it's really heart-breaking. If I were, I would honestly be on the streets. I couldn't stand by."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday "government bodies should provide space for legal criticism and protest," according to The Associated Press, but added, "Criticism differs from violence and destroying public property."
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted support for protesters and called for regime change in Iran. Golestaneh said she's heard some in her circles worried the protests may "open the doors to a U.S. coup in Iran," as happened previously in 1953.
"But they ignore the massacres happening, a lot of people are dead already in just four days or jailed," she countered. "This time, it's not siding with any political agenda. It's purely a popular movement by the people, most of them working class."
Safa said she's nervous about how the protests will proceed — and how the government will respond to protesters.
"I'm very proud of them, and I hope for the people who died that we follow their steps and their blood is not wasted," Safa said. "… People should have free choice of their religion, their politics, the political parties and newspapers should be free in Iran, women should be free."
In Iran Monday, according to state television, “armed protesters’’ tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, killing 10.
The demonstrations, the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, have seen days of unrest across the country — including the killing of a member of the military's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced Monday.
The protests began Thursday over economic issues and have expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Hundreds have been arrested. Iranian state television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze.
On Sunday, Iran's foreign ministry rejected as "false" and "illogical" Canada's statement that Ottawa "will continue to support the fundamental rights of Iranians, including the right to freedom of expression."
—With files from The Associated Press.
Correction (Jan. 3): An earlier version of this story described a flag at the protest as Iranian; it was Iran's flag prior to the 1979 revolution, not the current design. And the Associated Press incorrectly stated a police officer was killed; in fact, he was a member of the Iranian military's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.