Iran protesters attack religious school in Karaj province
Iranian authorities have barely mentioned days of demonstrations in the major cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran (Reuters)
Iranian protesters have attacked a religious school in Karaj province near Tehran, a conservative Iranian news agency has said, as sporadic protests simmered ahead of the reimposition of US sanctions.
Iranian authorities have barely mentioned days of demonstrations in the major cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran, driven by concerns over the economy as well as wider anger at the political system.
"At 9pm [15:30 GMT on Friday] they attacked the school and tried to break the doors down and burn things," the Fars News Agency quoted the head of the school in the town of Ishtehad, Hojatoleslam Hindiani, as saying.
It gave only his clerical rank, Hojatoleslam, not his given name.
"They were about 500 people and they chanted against the system, but they were dispersed by the riot police and some have been arrested," Hindiani said.
"These people came with rocks and broke the sign and all the windows of the prayer house, and they were chanting against the system."
During past unrest, conservative outlets have focused on attacks against sensitive symbols such as religious buildings as a way of tarnishing the protests.
US media campaign
Videos on social media in recent days have shown people marching in the streets of several cities, chanting "Death to the dictator" and other radical slogans.
These have been impossible to verify and the authorities have charged that they are promoted by foreign-based opposition groups funded by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The protests have often begun with slogans against the high cost of living and alleged financial corruption but quickly turned into anti-government rallies.
Foreign media are barred from observing or filming "unauthorised" protests.
The government of President Hassan Rouhani also faces opposition from conservatives and religious leaders, who have long opposed his outreach to the West and are keen to leverage anger over corruption to unseat him.
The conservative Qom News published a video of a protest in the holy city of Mashhad after Friday prayers, in which a cleric tells a sizeable crowd: "Most of your representatives don't care about people's problems.
"Most have two passports and their families are abroad. The judiciary should find these people and arrest them," the cleric says, to chants of "Allahu Akbar" from the crowd.
So far, social media reports suggest the current protests are far from the scale of the unrest seen in December and January, when at least 25 people were killed in demonstrations that spread to dozens of towns and cities.
In Washington, the US State Department said on its Persian-language Twitter account: "While it is ultimately up to the #people_of_Iran to determine their country's path, #America supports the voice of the Iranian people, which has been ignored for a long time."
Last month, US officials familiar with the matter said the Trump administration had launched a communications campaign to foment unrest and put pressure on Iran to end its nuclear programme and its support of armed groups.
More than half-a-dozen current and former officials told the Reuters news agency that the campaign is meant to work in concert with US President Donald Trump's push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions.
The drive, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, has intensified since Trump withdrew on 8 May from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The officials who spoke to Reuters said the campaign, consisting of speeches and online material paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations.
'Car prices going through the roof'
Washington has told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from 4 November or face US financial measures.
On 7 August, Washington will reimpose sanctions on Iran's purchase of US dollars, its trade in gold and precious metals and its dealings with metals, coal and industrial-related software.
Sanctions will also be reapplied to US imports of Iranian carpets and foodstuffs and on certain related financial transactions.
Iran's oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of the US sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere in the world.
Iran Air said on Saturday it was set to take delivery of five new planes from Franco-Italian firm ATR just before the renewed US sanctions go into effect.
"Based on existing agreements, five new ATR aircraft will land at Mehrabad Airport at 9am (04:30 GMT) tomorrow [Sunday]," the national carrier said on its Telegram channel.
The new ATR-72600 planes are part of a deal for 20 new aircraft that Iran Air agreed to buy in April 2017, of which eight have been delivered so far.
Iran says the sanctions are endangering lives by blocking the sale of new planes and spare parts for its ageing fleets.
The twin-prop planes are jointly manufactured by France's Airbus and Italy's Leonardo, but because just over 10 percent of their parts are made in the US, they are subject to the renewed sanctions.
Increased US hostility has also driven a run on Iran's currency, which has lost around two-thirds of its value in six months.
It is not yet clear how all this will affect ordinary Iranians, but a Western diplomat in Tehran who monitors the economy said prices of basic foods were already creeping up.
"We are already seeing car prices going through the roof over fears about raw material imports," she told AFP.
"In November, when oil sales are affected, we will have a clearer view of the impact on daily lives."
She said the collapse in the value of the rial was not driven by purely economic factors but instead by people rushing to buy gold or hard currency as a safe haven for their savings because they do not trust the government to improve the situation.
"There is a massive loss of confidence in the financial system and the government's ability to control things and withstand sanctions."