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The Latest: Hezbollah chief downplays Iran protests

By: Associated Press
January 3, 2018 Updated: January 3, 2018 at 1:20 pm
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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The Latest on protests in Iran (all times local):

10:45 p.m.

The leader of Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah group says President Donald Trump's "hopes" that the protests in Iran will snowball and lead to regime change or chaos will be dashed along with the hopes of the Israelis and Saudis.

In his first comments since protests in Iran broke out, Hassan Nasrallah said protesters with legitimate grievances have been exploited by political factions who attached political slogans to their protests.

Nasrallah, whose group is funded extensively by Iran, spoke in a TV interview with the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen station. He said the protests across Iranian cities are being dealt with "calmly and wisely" by Iranian authorities.

He said the protests are nothing like the massive protests of 2009 in terms of scope and demands, adding that "there is nothing to worry about."

___

9:45 p.m.

Iranian state TV says three security forces have been killed during clashes with militants near the border with Iraq.

The state TV website reported Wednesday that the clashes took place near the Kurdish town of Piranshahr, some 730 kilometers (450 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran.

The report says "armed counter-revolutionary bandits" are at large and Iranian forces are tracking them.

It did not elaborate on the affiliation of the militants. Kurdish separatists and Islamic extremists have carried out past attacks near the borders with Iraq and Turkey.

___

9:30 p.m.

U.N. officials are calling on Iran to respect protesters' rights and release any who have been arbitrarily arrested while demonstrating peacefully.

A spokesman said Wednesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging respect for rights. He's also stressing that demonstrations should be peaceful.

Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein pressed Iran to release anyone arbitrarily detained or penalized for peacefully expressing views.

Hussein also is calling on Iranian authorities to investigate all deaths and serious injuries during the protests that have roiled Iran over the last week.

At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds have been arrested amid anti-government protests fueled by economic grievances. Iranian state media reported Wednesday that tens of thousands of people took part in pro-government counter-demonstrations.

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8 p.m.

Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency says a European citizen has been detained on espionage allegations after leading rioters during anti-government protests.

The Wednesday report quotes Hamid Reza Abolhasani, head of the justice department in the western city of Boroujerd, as saying the suspect was trained by European spy agencies, without elaborating.

There have been no reports of protests in Boroujerd in recent days.

Anti-government protests have erupted in several towns and cities in Iran over the past week. Clashes have broken out at some demonstrations, and at least 21 people have been killed. Hundreds have been arrested.

Iranian officials have long accused the United States, Israel and Britain of plotting to overthrow the government.

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6:30 p.m.

Iranian state media are airing footage of pro-government demonstrations in cities across the country after a week of protests and unrest over the country's poor economy.

The English-language broadcaster Press TV aired the rallies live on Wednesday, saying they were to "protest the violence that has taken place over the last few nights in cities."

While the rallies showed support among Iran's 80 million people for its clerically overseen government, the unrest which has swept through several cities appeared to be reaching smaller towns in the countryside, according to protesters' online videos.

___

3:50 p.m.

Germany's government says protests against the economic and political situation in Iran "deserve our respect."

A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel says Berlin is closely watching developments in the country, which has seen growing economic ties with Germany in recent years.

Ulrike Demmer told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that "in the view of the German government it's legitimate and deserves our respect when people have the courage to take to the streets with their economic and political concerns, as is currently the case in Iran."

Demmer said Germany calls on the government in Tehran to respect freedom of assembly and speech, and to show its willingness to engage in dialogue with protesters.

She says where there is violence, the state should react proportionately and within the rule of law.

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3 p.m.

Turkey's foreign minister has been quoted as saying that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump are backing widespread protests in neighboring Iran.

Hurriyet newspaper and other media also quoted Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling a group of journalists on Wednesday that Turkey opposes foreign intervention in Iran and wants to see stability quickly restored in the country.

Cavusoglu said that "two people are supporting the protests in Iran: Netanyahu and Trump. We oppose such external interventions."

The demonstrations are the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election. At least 21 people have been killed.

Earlier, officials said the Turkish and Iranian presidents held a telephone conversation during which Iran's Hassan Rouhani said he hoped the protests would end in a few days.

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2:10 p.m.

Turkish officials say Iran's President Hassan Rouhani told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he hopes the protests that have hit Iran "will end in a couple of days."

Officials in Erdogan's office say the two had a telephone conversation on Wednesday during which Erdogan stressed the importance of stability and calm.

Erdogan also reiterated that Turkey back's Rouhani's statement in which he upheld Iranians' right protests but urged them not to violate laws. Erdogan's office said Rouhani thanked Erdogan and told him that he hoped the protests would end "in a couple of days."

Turkey and Iran have grown closer as they work together to try and end the conflict in Syria. Rouhani met with Erdogan in Istanbul last month on the sidelines of an Islamic nations' summit, voicing strong opposition to the U.S. administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

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11 a.m.

Iranian state TVs are airing footage of pro-government demonstrations in cities across the country after a week of protests and unrest over the country's poor economy.

The English-language broadcaster PressTV broadcast the rallies live on Wednesday, saying they were to "protest the violence that has taken place over the last few nights in cities."

Demonstrators waved Iranians flags and signs supporting Iran's clerically overseen government.

The rallies come after Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday blamed days of protests across the country on meddling by "enemies of Iran." State TV reported on Tuesday that the latest clashes between protesters and security forces have killed nine more people.

The demonstrations are the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election. At least 21 people have been killed.

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