(AP) - Two demonstrators were reportedly killed overnight as the Iranian government struggled to contain anti-government protests spreading throughout the country.
The deaths, which were reported Sunday by the semi-official Mehr news agency, marked the first time protesters were killed in the demonstrations which began Thursday over economic woes facing the country.
The fatalities occurred in protests in Doroud, a city about 200 miles southwest of Tehran, the Associated Press reported.
Iran’s government meanwhile attempted to undermine activists by limiting access to apps that had been used to organize or garner support for the protests.
Iran blocked access to Instagram and Telegram, a messaging app used by protesters to organize rallies.
“Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down… peacefully protesting channels” Telegram CEO Pavel Durov wrote on Twitter.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has not commented publicly on the reports from Iran.
President Trump weighed in Sunday for the second time. “Big protests in Iran,” Trump tweeted. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
He had earlier warned Tehran via Twitter, “The world is watching!”
The demonstrations were the largest in Iran since 2009 when tumultuous protests spread following a disputed presidential election. Those demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the government.
Trump has taken a hard line against Tehran, sharply criticizing a nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration and world powers that lifted some economic sanctions against Iran in return for limiting the country’s enrichment of uranium.
The agreement did not limit Iran’s activities around the world, including its support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria or the Houthis, who are engaged in a civil war in Yemen. The Trump administration has said the nuclear deal has done nothing to limit Iran’s support of terrorism.
The lifting of sanctions has improved Iran’s economy, but few of those changes have yet to reach ordinary Iranians, who still struggle with limited opportunities, including high unemployment.
A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40%, which a government spokesman has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests, AP reported.
At least 50 protesters have been arrested since Thursday, authorities said. State TV said some protesters chanted the name of the U.S.-backed shah, who fled into exile just before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and later died, , according to AP.
On Sunday, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported that authorities have arrested about 80 protesters in the city of Arak, 173 miles south of Tehran, AP reported.
© 2018 Associated Press