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Clashes as thousands gather for Mahsa Amini memorial in Iran

Iranian security forces have clashed with people taking part in a memorial for Mahsa Amini, according to a semi-official news agency, as thousands gathered in his hometown of Saqqez to mark 40 days since his death.

“A limited number of those present at the Mahsa Amini memorial clashed with police forces on the outskirts of Saqqez and dispersed,” the ISNA news agency reported on Wednesday. “After scattered clashes, the internet in Saqqez was cut off due to security considerations.”

Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died in the capital Tehran on September 16 after being detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly wearing inappropriate hijab. Her family contested a state investigation that blamed her death on preexisting conditions, which she said was not the result of Amini being beaten.

The weeks-long protests first broke out in Saqqez, in the northwestern province of Kurdistan. Since then, they have spread rapidly across the country, persisting amid the severe internet restrictions that remain in place.

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The 40th day from someone’s funeral, known as “chehelom”, has cultural significance in Iran and religious significance for Shia Muslims.

On Wednesday, videos circulating on social media showed large crowds marching and driving to the Aychi cemetery in Saqqez, where Amini was laid to rest.

Those gathered included people converging from other cities and seemed to number in the thousands. Many chanted “woman, life, freedom” and “freedom, freedom”, slogans that have been widely used in demonstrations across Iran, as well as in solidarity protests that have been staged outside the country.

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Speaking from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said some 10,000 people reportedly turned out at the cemetery to pay their respects to Amini.

“After the services that took place, when people were dispersing, that is when disputes broke out between the people there and the security forces, as a result of which, we heard that the government decided to cut off the internet due to security considerations. . Jabbari added.

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“That means almost 1.5 million people in the Kurdistan province will not have access to the internet for the foreseeable future.”

Earlier Wednesday, all schools and universities in the province were ordered closed, with officials citing an “increased spread of influenza” as the reason.

There were reports that popular figures such as football legend Ali Daei had traveled to Saqqez for the memorial and that the authorities had closed the roads into the city, leading people to cross rivers and walk long distances to reach the cemetery, all which was rejected. by state-affiliated media.

Esmail Zarei Kousha, the governor of Kurdistan, said on Wednesday that foreign media were trying to use Amini’s chehelom as an excuse to sow unrest.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry this week imposed sanctions on several Europe-based Persian-language channels for “inciting terrorism” in connection with their coverage of the protests.

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In the capital Tehran, videos circulating on social media on Wednesday appeared to show demonstrations in various neighborhoods and universities, as well as closed businesses.

Protests continue regularly at universities, with videos showing students chanting anti-establishment slogans. Government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi visited several universities this week and held “dialogue” sessions, but was interrupted by singing students.

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At Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology and other universities in the capital and other cities, male and female students stormed dining halls together, defying decades of gender-separation restrictions. Then, the authorities of several universities closed the places to eat, which led to the students having lunch in the open air sitting next to each other on the ground.

Elsewhere, a video showed a group of striking workers at the Tehran Oil Refining Company, but a spokesman for the refinery, part of the country’s critical oil sector, denied they were demonstrating, saying they were “talking to their bosses over some guild. related matters.”

Iranian authorities have not released official figures, but many dozens of people are believed to have been killed during the protests and many more arrested.

Hundreds of indictments have been issued against people whom authorities have called “riot leaders” in cities across the country. Their court cases are speeding up after an order from judicial chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei earlier this month.

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The ongoing protests, in addition to claims that Tehran is supplying Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine, have also significantly raised tensions with the West, with the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada imposing sanctions on Iran. officials and institutions.

In response, Iran has blacklisted several European officials and entities for “inciting terrorism” on its soil.

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